A Very Happy Ending Indeed –
An Exposition of Revelation 20

Jack M. Lane

The book of Revelation contains many prophecies relating to the end time, the return of Christ, and the establishment of God’s peaceful and happy reign over the earth during the Millennium.  Many of the prophecies in the Hebrew scriptures find their completion in the Book of Revelation; indeed, many Old Testament prophecies are quoted or inferred in the story line of Revelation.  The final book of the Greek scriptures truly ties up many loose ends and brings the story of mankind to its happy conclusion.

Among various Christian churches, there are a number of theological ideas regarding the fate of the dead.  Few of these ideas have their root in the scriptures.  This article discusses what is revealed in scripture about the fate of those billions of people who have lived and died throughout history without ever having heard of Jesus the Messiah, and those who may have heard the name but never accepted Him as their personal Savior.  A truly happy ending is revealed in the Book of Revelation.

Let’s begin by reviewing the time sequence of what’s taking place in the story.  In Revelation chapter 19, Messiah returns from heaven in triumph, in power and glory, to put down all human rulership and take His place as King of kings and Lord of lords on earth.  In chapter 20, Satan is chained for 1,000 years.  The saints come to life and rule with Christ for 1,000 years.  Then Satan is released for a little while, and finally defeated permanently.  Following this, we see the great white throne.

In Revelation 21, we see a new heaven and a new earth, and the New Jerusalem descending from heaven, in a time when there will be no more tears, and God will dwell with men.  In Revelation 21 and 22, we read about the wonderful attributes of this amazing, breath-taking kingdom, with an invitation to join both the Lamb and Him who sits on the throne, for a marvelous eternity and a happy ending to the story of mankind’s struggle through the ages.

That’s the setting.

This article will focus on chapter 20 because, in many respects, it contains the best part of gospel message.  Revelation chapter 20 discusses the time I refer to as “The Wonderful World the Day After Tomorrow.” I have referred to Revelation chapter 20 a number of times when I have spoken to people both in and out of our faith, about the remarkable plan of God and the marvelous, eye-popping future God has in mind for all of humankind.  It’s a very happy ending indeed.

The purpose of this article is to equip you with appropriate knowledge for those times when you may be called on to explain the hope that’s within you (Peter 3:15:  “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have”).

Concern for the unsaved dead

There are people in our daily lives who are very concerned about their friends and loved ones who have died.  They hope the dear departed aren’t frying in hellfire at this moment.  Not only that, but people are also concerned about their friends and loved ones who are still alive, and what might happen to them.  They have a deep anguish when they consider that their family members and friends may go directly to hellfire when they die, and burn eternally, unless they get saved first.

Many zealously religious people have irritated their friends and family by trying to “save” them.  Their motivations are honorable – they don’t want their friends to go to hell, which they picture as an ever-burning furnace of eternal punishing.  But to the ones being evangelized, the passionate Christian often comes across as a kook, a bother, a pest, and a fanatical religious zealot.  This passionate desire to save people is based on an understanding – which I believe is an incorrect understanding – that all people are either saved now, in this life, and go to heaven when they die, or they are lost now, in this life, and go into hellfire and burn eternally when they die.

There are a great many church-going people who believe this.  If people don’t accept Jesus Christ as their Savior now, in this life, that’s it – they’re finished.  They’re going to burn forever.  But is this taught in the Bible?  No, it really isn’t.  And this is one of the most difficult ideas for a lot of church-going people to accept.  This can be a real dividing line between various people who try to follow Christ.

We derive our doctrinal understandings by trying to discern and believe what the Bible teaches.  We have a policy of sola scriptura – we try to believe only those things which the Bible actually teaches.  For some people, it doesn’t seem to matter where doctrine comes from.  If their church believes it, it must be true.  For me personally, I really need to know what the Bible teaches, because that’s what I think God wants me to believe – even if the Bible teaches something other than what the majority of churches teach.

The truth is, there is no mention in the scriptures of immortal souls, of going to heaven when you die, going home to be with the Lord or going down below the ground to burn, or any number of other things people have been taught which simply are not taught in the Bible.  The Bible teaches that God has not yet set His hand to save the billions of people who have lived throughout the ages, or who are alive today.  There’s a time coming in the future when our Lord will return from heaven, resurrect the saints to immortal spirit life, and establish His kingdom here on earth for a thousand years.  We call that period of time the Millennium, which simply means “a thousand years.”

We also know that, following that time, after the Millennium, there will be a general resurrection of all the people who have ever lived, back to mortal life.  During that time, all the people of the earth from Adam’s day forward will be taught and trained to read their Bibles, understand what the Bible teaches, and accept Jesus Christ, Yeshua the Messiah, as their personal Lord and Savior.

Most people who have ever lived have never heard the name Jesus Christ, or Yeshua Mashiac, or Hesus Christos, or any other version of the name in any other language.  Most people who have ever lived have yet to hear the gospel of God.  That’s what that future life is all about.  That’s what Revelation chapter 20 discusses – the future of all mankind.

If some of us hearing this message are worried about friends and relatives – if we’re grieving over the possibility that they may die unsaved and face an eternity of torment in hellfire – it is time to look at this hopeful passage of scripture.

Remember the time reference of Revelation chapter 19:  Christ has come in great power, the beast and false prophet are captured and thrown into the lake of fire, and the enemy armies are destroyed.  Peace is about to erupt over the face of the earth.  But there’s one important task yet to be accomplished before the world can have peace.

Beginning the Millennium

Revelation 20 (New International Version [NIV] throughout):
1 And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss [a great pit of some kind] and holding in his hand a great chain.
2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.
3 He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended.  After that, he must be set free for a short time.

When we look at the book of Revelation, we realize that there’s a great deal of allegory and imagery in the story.  The apostle John sees many things which obviously stand for something else.  But other than the symbols used, I don’t see any reason to believe this is allegory here.  We know what the dragon and the chain and the big pit and the key represent.  I believe this is part of the story flow, and Satan will be isolated – somewhere, somehow – for 1,000 years.  It doesn’t specifically state that his demons will be restrained, but I think they may prove to be a weak and ineffectual source of devilment when their leader, Satan, is not there to direct them.

We now find ourselves at the point in the story where the devil is gone, the beast power is vanquished, and peace will finally break out over the earth.  The day we have so long waited for, the peaceful and happy World Tomorrow, will at last dawn on the earth.  I think if we are resurrected with tear glands in our eyes, it’s probably going to be raining.

The next order of business will be to set up the government of God on earth.

4: I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.
5 (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection.
6 Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection.  The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.

What’s this about souls?  If you come to this verse knowing only what’s being taught in many churches, you’d think these were immortal souls, hanging around in heaven because their owners had died.  But the word “soul” here comes from the Greek psuche, which corresponds to the Hebrew word nephesh, and both of those words refer to something mortal.  It’s the same word used in Revelation 6, concerning the souls under the altar.  What are souls doing under an altar?  Are there people hiding under a table until they’re told it’s safe to come out?  The Western mind might conjure these pictures.  The Hebrew mind, however, would immediately recognize what this pictures.

Anciently, in the Tabernacle in the wilderness and in the Temple in Jerusalem, animals were sacrificed to God on the altar, and their blood ran down to the ground under the altar.  The sacrifices were holy to God, and so was the blood.  God told Moses, “The life is in the blood.”

Leviticus 17:10-14:
10 "'Any Israelite or any alien living among them who eats any blood – I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from his people.
11 For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life.
12 Therefore I say to the Israelites, "None of you may eat blood, nor may an alien living among you eat blood."
13 "'Any Israelite or any alien living among you who hunts any animal or bird that may be eaten must drain out the blood and cover it with earth,
14 because the life of every creature is its blood. That is why I have said to the Israelites, "You must not eat the blood of any creature, because the life of every creature is its blood; anyone who eats it must be cut off."

“Life” is translated from nephesh, just as the word “soul” is, so we could just as easily say “The soul is in the blood.”  God told Moses to instruct the priests to let the blood go into the ground, and that Israelites were not to eat or drink blood.  We are to be living sacrifices, and some of us throughout the ages have been honored to be martyrs, shedding their blood for the sake of Christ.  The souls under the altar represent the accumulated blood of God’s martyrs throughout the ages.

In Revelation 20:4, John saw these souls “of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” John continues, in verse 5, “(The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.)”

The account in Revelation 20 skips the details about the Millennium.  The story flow goes directly to the end of the Millennium.

Revelation 20:7-8:
7 When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison
8 and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth – Gog and Magog – to gather them for battle.  In number they are like the sand on the seashore.

Who are God and Magog?  The reference here is not to specific countries, but to “the nations in the four corners of the earth ... In number they are like the sand on the seashore.”  We understand that Satan, when he is released, will again be very successful in deceiving the whole world!  That’s a lot of people – like the sand on the seashore.  So many people who are deceived and called together into some action by Satan, who is on furlough from the abyss.

9 They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God's people, the city he loves.  But fire came down from heaven and devoured them.
10 And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown.  They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

There are two problems in the translation of this verse.  Various translations render this verse differently.  The NIV (the translation being used in this article) got one instance correct and the other wrong.

First, many translations say the devil is thrown into the lake where the beast and false prophet are.  That implies the beast and false prophet are still alive at this point.  But there’s nothing in the Greek to indicate this.  The Greek simply states, “where the beast and false prophet.”  The verb seems to be missing.  It’s up to the translators to guess the meaning.  Here the NIV states, “where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown,” which was 1,000 years previous, as recorded in Revelation 19:20.

The second problem is where it says, “They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”  The word “they” isn’t in the Greek.  It simply says, “tormented day and night for ever and ever.”  The sense is that the devil will be tormented, not the beast and false prophet.

Why do I stop and point out these little tidbits of information?  Because it’s very difficult to translate anything from one language to another and keep the sense, and not make any mistakes.  These little errors appear in various translations, and have misled people over the centuries.  Today, in our educated society, with many translations and many study aids, we have no excuse if we misunderstand what was written down for us long ago, and we ought not to be misled by old erroneous doctrine.

If the beast and false prophet, two human beings, were still alive, a thousand years after being thrown into the lake of fire, that suggests immortal souls being tormented in hellfire.  Some churches teach this as a fundamental doctrine. But the Greek doesn’t support that idea.  It’s not in the scriptures.  And the idea of “lost” immortal souls burning endlessly in hellfire doesn’t correspond to what happens next in the story flow.

11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it.  Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them.
12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened.  Another book was opened, which is the book of life.  The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.
13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades [which simply means the grave] gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done.

I’ve told this story to people who believe in God, believe in Christ, believe in salvation, but who also believe that everyone is either saved or lost now, in this life.  By this time the narrative has gripped their attention, and now we come to the high point in the story.  Now we come to the time and place when people are either saved or lost.

Standing before the Judge

This is taking place after the Millennium has ended.  This is when the rest of the dead – those sleeping billions, waiting in their graves – come back to life.  That means everyone who has ever lived.  That means all our friends and relatives who have gone on before.  That means all our friends and relatives who are still alive.  The entire human race, great and small, comes to life and stands before the great white throne.

This is the day of judgment.  This is when the gavel comes down on the judge’s bench and everybody gets sentenced.  This is the day everyone has been dreading.  So what happens?  They’re standing before the throne, and “the books are opened.”  What books?  Not just any books.  The definite article is used in the Greek:  “the books were opened.”  The Greek word is derived from the Greek root biblia.  This is the word from which we derive our English word “Bible.”  “The books” are opened – the Bible is opened!

Does this sound like judgment?  It sounds a bit like school to me.  Or maybe church.  He gathers everyone together and opens up the Bible!  Now that He has their attention, He’ll teach them what’s in the books.  Not only are the books opened, but everyone’s understanding is opened, as well, unlike today.  At that time, they’ll truly comprehend what the One who sits on the great white throne is trying to teach them.  Under the circumstances, I think everyone will be ready to listen.

What’s the picture people have always had?  There are so many stories about Saint Peter and the Pearly Gates.  How do all those jokes begin?  “Well, these two guys die and come to the Pearly Gates, and Saint Peter is there, looking down from the pearly gates.”

Why is it always Saint Peter?  Because he has the keys to the kingdom!  Matthew 16:18-19:
18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

Of course he’s the gatekeeper.  He’s the one who’s going to let you in!

And Saint Peter says, “Welcome to heaven.  But before you can come in, you have to answer three questions.”  Or you have to do some other thing, or pass a test, or whatever.  It’s all pure fiction, for entertainment value.  We don’t often hear of people dying and showing up at hell’s gate, to be interviewed by the devil.  Perhaps this is a genre of joke that has been overlooked and neglected.

Understand that Saint Peter and the Pearly Gates are a religious fiction.  There is nothing in scripture even remotely similar.  It’s not going to happen.  What does the Bible say?  On the day of judgment, everybody stands up – that’s the second resurrection, the general resurrection of the dead, after the Millennium – and everybody gets to hear what’s in the books – the Bible.

Let’s look at Revelation 20:12-13 again.

Verse 12:  “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened.  Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.”

You have to remember that in Hebrew thought, the poetic way of writing is to state something, then to state it again as a corollary, or a parallel thought.  Verse 13 is a corollary to verse 12.

Verse 13:  “The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done.”

Both verse 12 and verse 13 say the same thing:  The dead come back to life, and they’re judged.  With the Bible opened, their lives are compared to what the Bible has to say.

This is the day of judgment.  There’s no Saint Peter at the gate.  There’s no test, no question, no something you have to do to get in.  There’s no joke.  There’s no punch line.  Everyone who has ever lived is on an equal footing.  Everyone’s life is judged against the Bible.

Atheists, agnostics, pagans; priests, laymen, deacons; Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians; Catholics, Protestants, Evangelicals.  Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists.  Everyone is judged according to what he or she did in life, and how it stacks up against the Bible.

I’m sure you can imagine how it all turns out.  Guilty.  Guilty as charged.  No loopholes.  No escape.  They did it.  They did it all.  They’re guilty.  They broke every law in the book, and often as not, they were pleased with themselves for getting away with it.

The second death

Imagine the great white throne.  Picture the scene.  Imagine every human being who was ever born, standing before the throne (with the exception of the saints who were raised a thousand years earlier).  Imagine how everyone feels:  sobered, grief-stricken, guilty as sin, each one facing his own sinfulness, each one facing the punishment his sin has earned him.

What should happen next?  Everyone sins – we know that.  Romans 3:23 says “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  But let’s not overlook the next verse, Romans 3:24:  “and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  That’s what’s different for the saints.  The saints are justified freely by God’s grace because of the sacrifice of our Savior.

What about the vast majority of mankind, those who never received Christ as their savior?  What should happen at this point, when all men, women, and children are found guilty of living lives of sin?  Should they all be thrown into the lake of fire, where the devil, the beast, and the false prophet were cast?  That would be justice.  That would be the logical outcome of being found guilty of sin.

But look what happens next.  Revelation 20:14:  “Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.  The lake of fire is the second death.”

Do you see that?  The people of earth are not thrown into the lake of fire.  Death is thrown into the lake of fire.  The grave is thrown into the lake of fire.  These sinners were facing sure punishment at the hands of an angry God.  But praise God, their sentences were commuted!  They were forgiven!  And the bottomless pit of death was taken away!  The open jaws of the grave are done away!

How is this possible?  Isn’t God a God of law?  Didn’t He put those laws into effect to begin with?  And no matter how much people believe those laws were done away, we know that they weren’t.  So why are these same laws, which accuse and convict a world full of sinners – why aren’t these laws able to claim their lives?

Grace.  God’s amazing grace.

You’ve probably heard a lot of discussion about “law versus grace.”  But in the great card game of life, grace trumps law every time.  Isn’t that nice?  That’s why we have a hope.

You’re familiar with Romans 6:23:  “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

At the great white throne, the Judge has them all, dead to rights.  They are individually and severally guilty of sin and deserving of death.  But what an act of grace – death itself is put to death, instead of the human race!

The first and second Adam

In Romans 5:12 we’re told that “...sin entered the world through one man [of course, that’s Adam], and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.”

Adam was the first one to sin, but we’ve all just fallen in line and committed sins of our own all along.   Everyone has continued in that pattern.  Since everyone sins, everyone is deserving of death.  We don’t die because of Adam’s sin.  We’re perfectly capable of earning the death penalty ourselves!

But let’s look in 1 Corinthians chapter 15.

1 Corinthians 15:20-26:
20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.
22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.
23 But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.
24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to
God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.
25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.
26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

Maybe this is significant to you, if you’ve lost a loved one recently.  Maybe this is meaningful to you if you’re in the process of losing a loved one today.  Those who have died unsaved aren’t lost.  They aren’t burning endlessly in fiery torment.  They’re resting in their graves, to awaken in the future at the foot of the great white throne.  And there, they’ll be given the same opportunity we have today to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, and to enter the realm of everlasting life as children of God.

We know that sin entered the world through Adam.  We hear about Adam’s fall, the fall of mankind, and about what happened after the fall.  But we have all sinned.  We’re not condemned by Adam’s sin, but our own.  But as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.  Everybody will be made alive through Christ.  Not simply because He lived a sinless life, but because His sinless life paid the price for your sin, and my sin, and the sins of those standing at the foot of the great white throne!

That’s why everyone gets to stand before the great white throne!  Instead of universal death for the human race, instead of an overflow crowd in a burning, fiery furnace, the grace of God provides for the substitution of Christ’s sacrifice for their sins.

This is the message of the gospel.  But it’s also in the torah, the first five books of the Bible, the writings of Moses.  The whole concept of substitutionary sacrifice has been around since God killed an animal to cover Adam and Eve’s naked bodies because they were ashamed – because they had sinned!  The reason God had Abraham almost sacrifice Isaac on a mountain was to picture how God was going to sacrifice His own Son later on, probably on the very same mountain!  The whole system of animal sacrifices in ancient Israel was to picture the sacrifice of our Savior, which would not simply cover our sins, but remove them completely!

John 3:16 in New Testament theology, but it’s not a new idea.  You know John 3:16:  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.”

The apostle John wrote, in 1 John 2:1-2:
1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.
2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

There they stand – the whole world – at the foot of the great white throne.  There they stand, convicted of their own sins, with nowhere to go, nowhere to hide.  But here’s what happens at the great white throne.  Picture this:  Death and the grave are cast into the lake of fire, in a crashing blaze of fury and deafening, thunderous noise!  And as the smoke clears, and as the echoes of thunder die away, there, standing in the silence, is the race of humans, now made immortal.  There is no more death for them.

There’s your grandpa, standing next to your grandma.  There’s another family member who died when you were little.  There’s a relative who died in World War II.  There’s your uncle who died in Vietnam.  Here’s a kid from your community who died in Iraq.  There’s your cousin who died when a drunk driver crushed him into oblivion.

Over there.  There’s a convict who died in the gas chamber at San Quentin.  There’s a whole platoon of soldiers from the Civil War.  Julius Caesar.  Genghis Khan.  Mahatma Ghandi.  Here and there are groups of tribes people from various remote parts of the earth.  Everybody’s there.

Look – there’s your mom and dad.

Maybe this has some significance for you if you aren’t sure what’s to become of your friends and family who have died without repenting of their sins.  They’re not lost.  They’re not burning in some great cosmic barbeque somewhere.  They’re asleep, waiting for the great white throne.

There is hope for everyone.  The door isn’t closed on the human race, neither are they burning in hellfire.  The great white throne is their portal into eternity.

God’s kindness

Of course, we all realize that blanket forgiveness is not necessarily God’s way.  There is one string attached.

In Acts chapter 3, Peter and John were instrumental in the healing of a crippled beggar.  Of course, this caused quite a stir, especially when Peter and John preached Christ to the people there.  In Acts chapter 4, Peter and John are called upon to defend themselves to the authorities.

Acts 4:8-12:
8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: "Rulers and elders of the people!
9 If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed,
10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified [we all crucified Him, didn’t we?] but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.
11 He [Christ] is 'the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.'
12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."

If this was true then, and it’s true now, I believe it will also hold true during the Millennium, and in the great white throne judgment.  Eternal life is a gift from God, which is only attainable through the one name under heaven by which we can be saved.  Whether you use the name Jesus, or Yeshua, or Yahshua, or Yehoshua, or whatever variation you prefer, that name is still the same, and it still points to the one source of salvation open to mankind.  There’s only one Man who can bring us into God’s kingdom – and it isn’t Saint Peter!  And the things we now have to go through in this life, those people in the future will have to go through, with the exception that Satan will not be there to torment and tempt them.

Isn’t that incredibly good news?  We may wonder at times, “Why did God call me?  I’m not strong enough to do this.”  Well, maybe you are – God doesn’t call people He knows won’t make it.  And maybe your husband or wife, or mom or dad, or son or daughter, would not be successful in the Christian life during this age.  If these people are going to have their minds opened when Satan’s not there, isn’t that wonderful?

Ephesians 2:1-13 describes the saints, but picture this as describing the people of the second resurrection undergoing the same process.

Ephesians 2:1-13:
1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,
2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.
3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.  Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.
4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy,
5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions –
it is by grace you have been saved.
6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,
7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God –
9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
10 For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called "uncircumcised" by those who call themselves "the circumcision" (that done in the body by the hands of men) –
12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.
13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.

Further information can be found in Titus chapter 3.

Titus 3:1-7:
1 Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good,
2 to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.
3 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures.  We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.
4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared,
5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.  He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,
6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior,
7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

The people of the second resurrection will need to undergo the same process we’re now going through.  Eternal life is a gift from God, but we can only approach that life through our Savior.  The apostle John relates what our Savior told us about how we can approach that life through Him:

John 10:7-15:
7 Therefore Jesus said again, "I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep.
8 All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.
9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.  He will come in and go out, and find pasture.
10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
11 "I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
12 The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep.  So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away.  Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it.
13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me –
15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep.

“Well, yes, Lord,” we might say, “You’re the Shepherd and we’re the sheep.  But aren’t you talking only about the church?  Aren’t you referring to the firstfruits, the saints, the ones who will be raised from the dead when You return?”

He answers in verse 16:  “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”

Picture that!  One universal flock.  Everyone in the world.  And each one of them enters the glorious kingdom through the same Gate, and answers to the same Shepherd.

John 3:10-13:
10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.
11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.
12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God –
13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.

And in verse 16:  “From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.”

That’s what the story of the great white throne is all about.

How did the story begin?

Gen 1:1:  “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

Gen 1:26-28
26 Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."
27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.  Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."

Verse 31:  “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning – the sixth day.”

But there arose a difference between God and the image of God.  Sin, and death as a result of sin, entered the world through one man.  God had planned, right from the start, to remedy this horrible situation.  The vision of the great white throne is the account of how God’s plan for all mankind will be successful.

Just one more thing

That brings us to the end of the story – from the fall to forgiveness, from mortality to immortality, from rejection to reconciliation.  But there’s still one thing more.  There’s a bite to this joyful story which could mar an otherwise happy ending.

Everyone in the second resurrection must go through the process we go through – repentance, forgiveness, conversion, and enduring to the end.  Our future brothers and sisters in the great white throne judgment must also have their names written in the book of life if they are to live forever.

Revelation 3:4-6:
4 Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes.
They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.
5 He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white.
I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels.
6 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Contrast this to what happens to unconverted humans during the time of the beast and false prophet.  Revelation 13:8:  “All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast – all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.”

I prefer to believe that these are uncalled and untrained people whose names have not yet been written in the book of life.  At the time of the great white throne judgment, when all mankind’s sins are forgiven, when everyone has a chance to accept their Savior and live forever, what’s the situation there?

Revelation 20:15:  “If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

Why is it that the books are opened, and also the book of life is opened?  The books of the Bible are opened so the people can learn about God’s holy and righteous law and be given an opportunity to align their lives with torah, God’s teachings, His instructions for us on how to live a happy and successful life, and ultimately become successful by being given the gift of eternal life.  The book of life is opened so that names can be written into it, one by one, as they repent, as they give their lives over to God, as they choose salvation and eternal life as children of God.

The people at the great white throne, like Christians today, must overcome and endure to the end.  If they do, their names will not be blotted out from the book of life.  The strong suggestion is that if they – or if we – do not endure to the end, they – and we – will not be there.

In fact, that’s how Revelation chapter 20 ends:  “If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15).

I imagine there will be some.  I expect that not everyone will accept their Lord and Savior, even when He’s standing there teaching them face-to-face!  That sounds really weird, doesn’t it?  But I suppose there will be some.  However, God is a God of love, and those people who refuse this most wonderful opportunity for eternal life as an immortal son of God will get what they want.  No one is going to force them to be there against their will.  They’ll just be put out of their misery.

But the rest of the family – everyone who has ever lived, including your friends and family members – will go on forever, building the universe, growing up together as siblings, rejoicing every day as children of the great God.

As I said, that’s a very happy ending indeed.

I don’t know about you, but I can hardly wait!