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Revelation 20: Saddest moment in human history hasn't happened yet

Unsplash/ Jakob Owens
Unsplash/ Jakob Owens

In the quiet warmth of our den, I sat beside my little boy, his golden hair shimmering under the gentle afternoon sunlight pouring through our picture window. His little legs, no longer than the length of the couch cushion, dangled over the edge as he leaned in closer, his eyes wide with wonder and cheeks flushed a rosy red. The room was filled with an air of anticipation, for we were about to embark on a wondrous journey together — a journey through the pages of a children’s Bible storybook.

As I opened the book’s cover, his whole countenance lit up, eager to immerse himself in this tale of old, but a true story as all Bible accounts are. For this reading, we chose to explore the story of Adam and Eve. In the simplest of terms, it spoke of a paradise, a place called Eden, where the first married couple lived in blissful harmony with God and creation.

While we ventured through the book’s pages, the images of an unspoiled garden were painted before us, where the birds sang in sweet harmony, and the flowers danced in the gentle breeze. It was a place of marvels and curiosity, where Adam and Eve’s hearts knew no sorrow, no sickness, and their souls were always satisfied and filled with boundless joy.

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But then, as every story must have its turning point, came the serpent – the embodiment of deception and temptation. He fooled Adam and Eve into doing the one thing God had earnestly urged them not to do — to eat from the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

As the narrative unfolded, I could see the import of Adam and Eve’s choice bearing down heavily on my son’s thoughts. His innocent smile which beforehand adorned his face had left him. With misty eyes and voice quivering, he looked at me and said, “That’s the saddest story I’ve ever heard, Daddy.”

I could feel the weight of his words sinking deep into me, for in that moment, I knew he had glimpsed the profound tragedy of humanity’s fall away from God. Paradise was lost, sorrow, sickness, and even death had entered the world.

With one arm wrapped around his small frame, I pulled him close to myself. His body now slumped with the burden of the knowledge he had acquired. And in the hush of that tender trice, I replied, “Indeed, it is a sad story, son, very sad. Indeed, it is.”

Surrounded by the warmth of our shared love, I realized this simple chronicle from time’s beginning held within it the essence of human history’s deepest sorrows. It was a reminder that even from the creation, the fragility of innocence and the significance of our choices can result in the saddest of consequences — a truth that has echoed through every age.

Some might argue, however, that the story of Adam and Eve, the account given in the book of Genesis, is not the saddest in human history. Instead, it is the one near the end of the Bible in the book of Revelation. Revelation chapter 20 verses 11 through 15 read:

“And I saw a great white throne and the one sitting on it. The earth and sky fled from his presence, but they found no place to hide. I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books. The sea gave up its dead, and death and the grave gave up their dead. And all were judged according to their deeds. Then death and the grave were thrown into the lake of fire. This lake of fire is the second death. And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:11-15).

Per the prophetic vision presented in the book of Revelation, the apostle John bears witness to an impending Judgment Day, one that occurs at the culmination of Earth’s existence. Within the narrative of Revelation, this momentous event transpires after the triumphant return of Christ, who has vanquished the forces of darkness in the apocalyptic clash known as Armageddon. The Antichrist and the False Prophet have met their eternal fate and have been consigned to the depths of the infernal Lake of Fire. Satan has been confined and will be bound for a duration of one thousand years, thereby removing the presence of his deceptive powers over the nations.

During this remarkable era of unparalleled peace and prosperity, referenced as the Millennial Kingdom, the world undergoes a process of rejuvenation and restoration under the benevolent rule of Christ and his saints.

Yet, a sobering moment arrives when the Adversary is temporarily released from his chains in the abyss, and the sincerity of the world’s devotion to God is tested. Sadly, a significant number defy God’s gracious sovereignty once more. In response, God’s divine fiery retribution descends from the heavens, engulfing all who are in league with the devil.

At the culmination of these events, a most astonishing and reverential spectacle unfolds. God’s celestial throne, radiating with an immaculate, resplendent white light, manifests within the cosmos. Individuals from every stratum of society, be they influential or inconspicuous, experience a bodily resurrection, and are reunited with their corporeal forms. They stand in solemn assembly before this transcendent throne to give an account of their earthly lives. Regardless of the places where their mortal remains repose — whether within the confines of coroner’s offices, conventional cemeteries, imposing mausoleums, hidden crypts, the depths of the sea, above-ground tombs, military burial grounds, memorial sites, or gardens, and even where their ashes have been scattered — every soul, now dust and bone, shall be resurrected to face this divine tribunal in the ultimate, as well as saddest moment of fear and trembling for mankind.

No one who possesses any respect for God’s authority and power can read the words in Revelation chapter 20: 11-15, and not be disturbed. Unless, however, the person who reads them knows that the judgment for his or her sins has previously taken place.

The believer’s judgment for sin took place on the Cross of Calvary. On the Cross, Christ bore in full measure the judgment of those who trust in him as their Savior and Lord. 

This is not to say believers will not have to face judgment, too. The Bible speaks of two judgments, one for the saints and another for sinners. One for the sheep and one for the goats (Matthew 25:31-46).

The judgment of the saints is called, “The Judgment Seat of Christ.” Not much is said about the Judgment Seat of Christ in the book of Revelation, but there are other texts which speak of it (2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 14:10; I Corinthians 3:10-15; I Corinthians 4:5; Revelation 22:12). The emphasis of the believer’s judgment is not sin, but to determine what rewards, if any at all, the believer deserves for faithfulness to Christ.

The judgment described in Revelation chapter 20, however, is not for the saved, but for the unsaved. Their names are not written in the Book of Life.

In the Old Testament, The Book of Life is mentioned as a record of where the names of those who belong to God are written.

Moses was so burdened for God to forgive the sins of his fellow Israelites, that the Bible says he was willing to be blotted out of God’s Book of Life if that would save them (Exodus 32:32-33). The psalmist spoke of his enemies being blotted out of the book of the living (Psalm 69:28). In a prophetic context, Daniel mentioned The Book of Life, which contained the names of those who will be delivered during the end times (Daniel 12:1).

In the New Testament, emphasizing their right standing before God, Paul noted that his fellow worker’s names were in The Book of Life (Philippians 4:3). In Revelation chapter 3 and verse 5, Jesus told the church in Sardis that everyone faithful to him would also conquer with him, and he promised that their names would not be erased from The Book of Life. Revelation chapter 13 and verse 8, as well as chapter 17 and verse 8, say that the Book of Life was written before the foundation of the world, which indicates God’s eternal knowledge of every human being.

In essence, every person conceived and born into this world has their existence and identity recorded within the pages of God’s divine ledger. However, this interstellar record carries an important caveat: should individuals fail to seize the extraordinary opportunity which God has provided for their redemption in Christ, their names will be blotted out from the Book of Life. This erasure signifies not only removal from God’s Book but also the loss of any memory of that person. In this last and final judgment at the end of the thousand years, these people are raised bodily from hades and the grave, where they have been held for this judgment to stand before God and face the reckoning of their deeds at his Great White Throne.

Some scorn and laugh at this warning from the Bible. That’s nothing new.

They laughed when Noah as a “herald of righteousness” solemnly warned the masses of his day that God would soon judge the world with a mighty flood (2 Peter 2:5). Though they disbelieved, the rains still fell profusely, and a universal deluge swept the entire world clean of their presence.

When Lot learned from the two angels that God was going to destroy Sodom, he hastened to his sons-in-law, who were married to his daughters, and warned them to leave without delay and take their families to safety. But they didn’t take Lot seriously. They thought he was joking, and they were subsequently destroyed when God showered the city with fire and brimstone. 

The prophet Amos confronted significant opposition and disbelief when he delivered his warnings to the people of Israel regarding their impending judgment. His prophetic ministry unfolded during a period marked by prosperity and materialism within the Northern Kingdom. Sadly, his earnest calls for repentance were met with disdain by people who had grown complacent in their transgressions and were unwilling to acknowledge the gravity of their offenses before a holy God.

In his poignant plea, Amos implored them to “Prepare to meet God” (Amos 4:12). Nevertheless, their hearts remained unyielding, and the consequences of their disobedience ultimately came to pass, leading to Israel’s grievous judgment of exile and captivity.

Today the circumstances aren’t much different. Like any other country, people in America engage in a wide array of sinful behaviors and lifestyles. Nonetheless, it could be correctly argued the judgment of many in this country will be greater than the judgment of others, because of the easy access this nation has had to the Gospel message of salvation, as well as the many other teachings of the Word of God.

Jesus solemnly said, “But someone who does not know, and then does something wrong, will be punished only lightly. When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required” (Luke 12:15).

The writer of the book of Hebrews counseled: 

“Dear friends, if we deliberately continue sinning after we have received knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice that will cover these sins. There is only the terrible expectation of God’s judgment and the raging fire that will consume his enemies. For anyone who refused to obey the law of Moses was put to death without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Just think how much worse the punishment will be for those who have trampled on the Son of God, and have treated the blood of the covenant, which made us holy, as if it were common and unholy, and have insulted and disdained the Holy Spirit who brings God’s mercy to us” (Hebrews 10:26-29).

Isn’t this exactly what so many are doing in our own time? Most people live in a rich landscape of opportunity to hear and respond to the message of God’s offer of reconciliation in Christ.

Churches, where the Gospel is preached, hold regular services. The Gospel message is repeatedly televised and heard on the radio. Thousands of Christian websites, podcasts, YouTube channels, and streaming platforms provide sermons and Bible studies to almost anyone and any place. Bibles are everywhere, Christian books, magazines, and pamphlets. Christian articles on every Bible subject can easily be found online. Evangelistic campaigns, revivals, and conferences are held in various locations. There is Christian music readily available, making the Gospel known in almost every genre. Missionaries and pastors are constantly engaged in outreach activities. Moreover, there is usually always someone, somewhere, within earshot talking about Jesus and the need to be forgiven and transformed by the power of Christ.

Nevertheless, despite this, most people close their minds, shutter their hearts, and willfully continue their sinning. They misuse drugs and alcohol. They have extramarital affairs and sexual relationships outside of marriage and wickedly cover it up with an abortion. They immerse themselves in pornography, and thereby often, unbeknownst to them, support human trafficking. They lie, cheat, and engage in fraudulent activities. They excessively pursue wealth and materialism while neglecting and forgetting the needy. They pervert the institution of marriage with men marrying men and women marrying women and call what God calls sinful, sacred. They are lawless, violent, and disrespectful of authority figures. They steal by illegal and legal means. They hate what is righteous and loathe what is good, and all the while never give a moment’s thought to when they will answer for every sin, should they continue turning a deaf ear to God’s call for repentance and salvation.

Lest some read the previous list of transgressions and think they are safe; it should be noted that it is not only those who are flagrant about their depravity who shall be judged but also those who are prideful and think somehow they are worthy of entering God’s Kingdom on their own merit. Some feel they have been good enough.

Jesus once contrasted the attitudes and prayers of two men. One, a very religious man, compared himself to others and boasted about his own perceived goodness. He wrongly assumed that God received him on this basis. The other man, however, Jesus said, recognized his corruption of heart. Standing at a distance and acknowledging to God the gravity of his many sins, he implored God in prayer: “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Jesus said it was the second individual that went home justified, not the first man.

It is not our good deeds that ensure our names are written in the Book of Life. Instead, it is the recognition of our sin and desperate need for grace, the unmerited favor of God, which opens the door to his blissful rest. We finally see salvation is not what we do, but what Christ has done for us.

But some are too proud to believe this and thereby insist that they be judged by their works and not grace, and so they shall be at that terrible Great White Throne, where it will be shown what Isaiah said:

“We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind” (Isaiah 64:6).

Every day, every hour, people of the world are getting closer to when the tomes of human existence will be unveiled, and every page of the books will be read aloud in the presence of him who sits on the Great White Throne. No sin, not even a little one, will go unpunished and the degree of punishment in hell will be calculated by him who always adjudicates with perfect justice. The sentence will then be declared and executed.

Death will then forever die, and the grave will be no more, and those whose names were not written in the Book of Life will be thrown into an eternal firestorm — not a place of annihilation but a place where God’s presence is not — where there is no love and no joy, only a profound sense of emptiness, despair, regret, remorse, and missed opportunities for redemption. There will be both physical and psychological suffering, fire and darkness, weeping and wailing, and gnashing of teeth. The torment will be eternal, forever fueled by the unrepented sins judged at the Great White Throne.

Yes, this seems to be the saddest story — the saddest moment in human history. But it doesn’t have to be that way for you if you turn away from your sins and turn to Christ. The saddest moment in human history hasn’t happened yet. There’s still time to make matters right with God. Don’t delay.

Rev. Mark H. Creech is Executive Director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc. He was a pastor for twenty years before taking this position, having served five different Southern Baptist churches in North Carolina and one Independent Baptist in upstate New York.

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