Rev. 20:11 – Then I saw a great white throne and One seated on it. Earth and heaven fled from His presence, and no place was found for them. (HCSB)
A great white throne
In contrast to the heavenly “thrones” upon which people sit and from which they are given authority to rule (verse 4), John now describes “a great white throne” upon which God sits to judge the wicked standing before Him. Specifically, the One seated on the throne is Jesus, to whom the Father has given all judgment (John 5:22). John describes the throne as great and white to indicate the purity of Christ and the awesome weight His judgments carry.
John sees a similar throne in heaven in Revelation 4, but the circumstances are vastly different.
The One seated on the throne in Revelation 4 is surrounded by a rainbow, indicative of God’s covenant promises; but the throne in Revelation 20 is stark and singular, for there are no further hopes to fulfill.
The throne in Revelation 4 is surrounded by 24 elders that cast their crowns before Him and declare His worthiness; but the throne in Revelation 20 stands alone, for there is no reward to share with the wicked standing there, and no praise from their lips.
The throne in Revelation 4 features lightning and thunder as warnings of God’s power and as invitations to repent; but the throne in Revelation 20 is silent and eerily calm, for the end of grace has come.
The throne in Revelation 4 witnesses the seven-fold Spirit of God, which bears testimony of Christ and woos people to turn to Him for salvation; but the throne in Revelation 20 has no flaming torches and no still, small voices.
The throne in Revelation 4 has before it a glassy sea to indicate heavenly peace and security; but the throne in Revelation 20 is barren of such harbors because the wicked have rejected the Person who offers them peace.
The throne in Revelation 4 receives thunderous praise and joyful exultation from heavenly creatures and redeemed people; but the throne in Revelation 20 receives only silence because the ones standing before it have no praise to give and no defense to offer.
There is something stark and terrifying about the throne in Revelation 20, as we are about to discover.
Seats of authority
Thrones, of course, are seats of authority, and from these regal chairs men and women throughout history have exercised their power to make war and peace, demonstrate their wrath and mercy, and proclaim life and death for their subjects. Some thrones carry more weight than others because some rulers have greater authority than their rivals. However, the throne of God is the Bible’s way of asserting God’s sovereignty over earth and heaven.
At times, Old Testament prophets are given glimpses of God on His throne, surrounded by the heavenly court (1 Kings 22:19-23; Isa. 6:1-3; Ezek. 1:4-28; Dan. 7:9-10). These rare visions enable us to see God in His splendor, making decisions that affect people on earth. In Revelation, the heavenly throne is mentioned roughly 40 times, giving us a more complete view of His divine decrees. “The centrality of the throne signifies God’s sovereign rule as the centerpiece of ultimate reality around which everything else revolves” (Dictionary of Biblical Prophecy and End Times, p. 444).
The great white throne in Revelation 20 is unique among the thrones of God in scripture.
It stands alone. It bears no context. It offers no hope, grace, or mercy.
It calls no one to repentance. It prompts no one to sing. It fulfills no covenant promises.
It surrounds itself with no rainbows, flaming torches, seas of glass, or heavenly creatures.
It is perhaps the most solemn image of God’s throne in the Bible for it depicts the time and place where Christ – the Creator, Redeemer, and Judge – meets face to face with the wicked of all ages that have rejected Him and must now give an account of their lives.
It is the last stop on the road to hell.
Next: Earth and heaven fled – Revelation 20:11b