************ Sermon on Revelation 20:11-15 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on November 15, 2009
"The Books Were Opened"
"Books were opened" (Rev 20:12). This has to be the scariest line in the entire Bible. Someday, the books will be opened. Someday, every single person will stand before the throne of God – Carolyn, Kacie, Leslie, every other person here. You will be standing there by yourself – just you and God. Solo. Your family and friends are not surrounding you and supporting you. You are not there with life's achievements – position, power, glory, grades, ribbons. You are not there with your money and your wealth. You will stand before God by yourself and the books will be opened.
"Books were opened" (Rev 20:12). Does this scare you? It should. It should if your name is not written in the other book, the book of life. It should if you are not a believer. It should if you do not confess Christ – like Carolyn, Kacie, and Leslie.
"Books were opened" (Rev 20:12). What are these books? What is John talking about? I want you to take note that John sees two sets. First, John sees books – hear the plural – books! Second, John sees another book – hear the singular – book!
I The Books
A Let's start by looking at the plural – at the books. "Books were opened" (Rev 20:12). Remember, the Revelation is a book we are to imagine, to see in 3-D color. So, what are we to see here? We are to see more than just one book. We are to see many books. Piles and piles of books. Books going up higher than I can reach.
This is apocalyptic literature. Which means that like so much else in the Revelation, we are not think of these as literal books. Rather, they are a powerful way of communicating God's unfailing memory. God is omniscient – He sees and knows everything. God is omnipresent – He is present everywhere. So, God misses nothing. God overlooks nothing. God's memory makes no mistakes. God records everything.
Every person has books. In my mind I see at least a book for every year that I live. Some of the books are quite thick; some maybe a little bit thinner.
What are in those books? Every word – including the hasty ones. Every thought – including the most secret thoughts you never share with anyone. Every deed – including every hidden one that you never want to see the light of day. It is all there – in the books. Apart from the grace of God in Christ, none of it good, all of it bad, none of it measuring up, all of it falling short of the glory of God.
And, get this, everything in the books is accurate, without error, without mistake.
Some of you might be acquainted with Wikipedia – the online encyclopedia. For a while, they accepted every submission. But, then, it was discovered that religious groups like Scientology were editing and removing anything critical in their entry. Some of the entries were nothing but garbage and could not be trusted.God's books, however, contain no mistakes. Because God is perfect in every way.
The same thing happened with Appleton's Encyclopedia of American Biography. An unknown practical joker sent them at least 84 biographies of fictitious persons between 1886 and 1888. Although these individuals were figments of the imagination, the encyclopedia listed their achievements and books. The fake entries went unnoticed until 1919 when 14 were discovered by a librarian. This started a more thorough search which brought to light 70 more by 1936.
B "Books were opened" (Rev 20:12). What is done with the books? Why are they opened? John tells us: "The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books" (Rev 20:12); "each person was judged according to what he had done" (Rev 20:13). This is the final judgment. This judgment is not based on emotion. It is not based on whether God is having a good day or a bad day. It is not based on the lies or deceit of witnesses. The judgment is not the result of bribes, coercion, threats, tears, hysteria, or media attention. Judgment is based upon the books. There is no lack of clarity, no confusion, no question about these judgments. Because judgment is based upon irrefutable evidence. Everything is in the books and the books have no mistakes.
"The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books" (Rev 20:12); "each person was judged according to what he had done" (Rev 20:13). Carolyn, Kacie, Leslie, every other person here – we are judged by works. This is nothing new – that the final judgment is a judgment of works. Let me quote just a few passages:
(Is 59:18) According to what they have done, so will he repay wrath to his enemies and retribution to his foes; he will repay the islands their due.Do you realize there is not a single judgment text in all of the Bible that talks about faith? Often, our judgment is totally different from God's; we are so quick to ask, "Do you believe in Jesus? Have you received Jesus as Savior and Lord?" Our judgment is a judgment based upon faith in Christ. But this is not the way it is with God's judgment. Without exception, every text that speaks of God's judgment, speaks of a judgment by works – including the passage that is in front of us this morning. Whether you are a believer or an unbeliever, the basis for judgment is always the way one's life has been lived.
(Jer 17:10) "I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve."
(Mt 16:27) For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. (Cf Rom 2:6)
(2Tim 4:14) [Paul gets personal here] Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done.
I can hear those of you who know your Reformed theology say, "Hold it, Pastor. I thought salvation is by grace through faith. So why are you talking about a judgment of works?" Do you remember what James says?
(James 2:18,24) I will show you my faith by what I do ... (24) You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.James tells us there is such a close connection between faith and works that at the final judgment works are the test, the proof, the measure of our faith. This means that the judgment of a person's works will in reality be a judgment of a person's faith. If the faith is real, the works will be there. If the works are not there, the faith is not real.
Here is a saying I want everyone to remember: saved by grace, judged by works; saved by grace, judged by works; saved by grace, judged by works. Maybe I should have you repeat it. Maybe not. But are you going to remember this? Saved by grace, judged by works. If ever there is a reason to lead a Christian life, this is it: saved by grace, judged by works.
How does God know if our faith is real? He checks the books. He looks at what He has written there. And, remember, the books do not lie. Judged by works.
C "Books were opened" (Rev 20:12). Who does the opening? Most of you already know what I am about to say. Here is another instance of the divine passive in the Revelation. The One Who does the opening is not mentioned. It is God Who does the opening. Why? Because it is God Who does the judging.
There is nothing new about this. From its opening pages, the Bible presents God as Judge. For instance, God judged Adam and Eve in the Garden. God judged the world at the time of Noah. God judged those at the Tower of Babel. God judged the Egyptians at the time of the Exodus. God judged the Canaanites living in the Promised Land. God judged Israel when she turned to idolatry. And, throughout the Revelation we have seen judgment after judgment from God: the seven seal judgments, the seven trumpet judgments, the seven bowl judgments. We have seen God's judgment upon Babylon, upon the beast, upon the false prophet, upon Satan. Therefore, the role of Judge is not something God assumes on just the last day. God has been Judge throughout history. In fact, judgment is His eternal right as the Creator of all things.
Now, did you notice the picture John gives us of God as Judge? Listen to verse 11:
(Rev 20:11) 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.
What does John see? John sees a throne. And, John sees the One seated on the throne. And, what doesn't John see? John doesn't see what he saw the first time he was given a glimpse of the throne: the four living creatures and twenty four elders, the choirs of angels praising God, the sea of glass (Rev 4). John doesn't see earth and sky, heaven and earth. All that John sees is the throne and the One seated on the throne. The focus is God and God alone. There is nothing to compete with Him. Nothing to challenge Him. Nothing, even, as an accessory to Him. Which makes me ask the question: where is everyone else, everything else, what has happened to them, to where did they disappear?
Did you hear what John said? John said, "earth and sky fled from his presence" (Rev 20:11). They fled. As did everything else in all of Creation. Why? Well, look at John's description. What does John see? John sees a "great white throne." The throne is "great" – John is talking about its size, its authority, its grandeur. Which means that the One seated on the throne also has size, authority, grandeur. A great throne means a great occupant. The throne is "white" – John is talking about purity, holiness, righteousness. Which means the One on the throne is pure, holy, righteous. Now do you see why everything has fled? In terror. In dread. Knowing they don't measure up. Knowing God is too great for them. Too holy. Knowing no mere creature can see the glory of God and live. The throne and the One on the throne is terrifying. He is dreadful. He causes even the Creation to tremble with fear.
But this is not the first time we have seen this in the Revelation:
(Rev 16:18,20) Then there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake ... (20) Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found. (Cf Rev 6:12-14)The Psalmist talks this way as well:
(Ps 114:5-7) Why was it, O sea, that you fled, O Jordan, that you turned back, (6) you mountains, that you skipped like rams, you hills, like lambs? (7) Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob ...Everyone and everything trembles and shakes and falls and flees at the presence of the Lord God Almighty.
Everything trembles at the presence of God as Judge so all that John sees is God and God alone. Which tells us something about the nature of the judgment to come. With all previous judgments, God employed various means. At the time of Noah, He used the fountains of the deep. With the Egyptians, He used the plagues. With Israel, He used Assyria and Babylon. Earlier in the Revelation, He used angels, horsemen, earthquakes, thunder, lightning, even demons. But in the final judgment God uses nothing. Why? Because He reserves this final judgment for Himself alone, for His hand alone. Just you and God. Face to face. A solo performance – on your part as well as God's!
D Let's pause for a moment and get more clarity about the throne. Who is on the throne? Our Bible reading simply says "him who was seated on it." This phrase usually refers to God the Father. Who is on the throne? God is. But listen to Revelation 22:
(Rev 22:1) Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb ...Who is on the throne? God is. And, Jesus is. It is the throne of God and of Christ. But don't we see that same picture back in Revelation 4 and 5? Back then, John saw "a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it" (Rev 4:2). John sees God the Father. But, then, what does John see? John "saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne" (Rev 5:6). So, God is on the throne. And, Jesus is on the throne. Remember what Jesus said? Jesus said, "I and the Father are one" (Jn 10:30). Jesus also said, "the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son" (Jn 5:22). So, it is the judgment of God which is also the judgment of the Son.
(Rev 22:3) No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.
E Did you notice who is standing before the throne? "The dead, great and small" (Rev 20:12). "Great and small" means people from every class and social standing; no exemptions. No one is too important to be missing. No one is too insignificant to be absent. And, notice where the dead come from – the sea, death, and Hades; this is three literary ways of referring to the place of the dead. The grave. Who is standing before the throne? Everyone. Everyone who has ever lived. Carolyn, Kacie, Leslie, every other person here. "Books were opened" (Rev 20:12) and everyone is condemned.
II The Book
A Thank God there is more to what John sees. "Another book was opened, which is the book of life" (Rev 20:12). This is not the first time this book has been mentioned in either the Revelation or the rest of the Bible.
(Ex 32:32-33) But now, please forgive their sin--but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written." (33) The LORD replied to Moses, "Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book ..."
(Ps 69:28) May they be blotted out of the book of life and not be listed with the righteous.
(Dan 12:1) But at that time your people--everyone whose name is found written in the book--will be delivered.
(Phil 4:3) Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
(Rev 3:5) 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. (Cf Rev 13:8; 17:8)
What is this book, this book of life? It is a roster. It is a membership roll of God's elect. It is a list of names written down from even before the creation of the world (Rev 17:8). It is the names of those who belong to the Lamb that was slain (Rev 13:8).
B What is the connection between the books and the book of life? God compares the books with the book. Listen to verse 15:
(Rev 20:15) If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.What happens? As each person comes before the great white throne, God checks the books and pronounces judgment upon thoughts, words, and deeds. Remember, those books contain no error, they have no mistakes, they are as infallible as the Scriptures. Then God checks the book.
C What happens to those whose names are not found in the book of life? They are thrown into the lake of fire. Why? Because they deserve it. Remember the books? Remember the sins? These are people who do not believe in Jesus. They have rejected the Gospel. They are in rebellion against God.
I can imagine the scene. God checks the books. What is the verdict? "Guilty!" What is the sentence? "Lake of fire!" And then the last minute appeal: "Check the other book, the book of life. Don't you see my name there?" "No, your name is not there." So, they are escorted out of the heavenly courtroom. They walk down the plank. They are thrown into the lake of fire. No one goes there willingly, you see. Because it is too awful to contemplate.
Do you know what this teaches us? It teaches damnation by works.
D What happens to those whose names are found written in the book of life? I can imagine this three different ways:
-First, God takes His giant divine eraser and blots out the sins.
-Or second, God presses the delete key on heaven's computer and all the sins disappear.
-Or third, God dips His quill in the ink pot of Christ's blood and writes beside every sin of the elect "forgiven, forgiven, forgiven, forgiven."
Do you see what happens for Carolyn, Kacie, Leslie, and every other person who confesses Christ? They are guilty, yes they are. Judged by works. But, BUT, their sins are not held against them. Saved by grace.
My brothers and sisters, your name and my name is written in the books. Everyone's name is in those books. But now the more important question – is your name also written in the other book, the book of life? Like Carolyn, Kacie, and Leslie do you believe in Jesus and confess Jesus?
Let me end with the comfort and assurance of the Bible's best known verse:
(Jn 3:16) For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.There you have it – whoever believes in Him shall NOT perish.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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