Rev. 20:12 – I also saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne … (HCSB)
I also saw the dead
Evidently these are unbelievers of all time summoned to final judgment. They are “dead” in three ways. First, they are spiritually dead, separated from God by their unbelief. Second, they are physically dead, having died and now having been physically resurrected to stand in judgment. Third, they are everlastingly and irreversibly dead; once their judgment is complete, they are cast into the lake of fire where they experience unending separation from their Creator and are shackled with the reality that God has given them what they desire: the freedom to live independently of Him for eternity.
John describes them as “the great and the small.” They are the famous and the obscure; the mighty and the frail; the elderly and the young; the educated and the unschooled; the peerless and the impoverished; the gifted and the ordinary; the blunt and the arcane; the religious and the atheistic; the moral and the decadent; the violent and the gentle; the arrogant and the fearful.
God is no respecter of persons. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matt. 5:45). Christ’s offer of salvation is open to Jew and Greek, male and female, slave and free. The kingdom of heaven is populated with people every tongue, people, kindred, and nation, and there is equal representation before the great white throne.
The great equalizer
Just as the moral man and the mass murderer stand on equal footing before the cross, there is no inside track at final judgment and no road around the second death. Death is the great equalizer. The great and the small now stand before God without an adequate defense. They are guilty and they know it. Yes, Christ’s death is sufficient for all, but His blood is applied only to those who willingly receive its effects and believe on the divine shedder of that blood. Those who have trampled on His blood in life will enter eternity with His blood on their hands.
Matthew Henry writes, “None are so mean but they have some talents to account for, and none so great as to avoid the jurisdiction of this court; not only those that are found alive at the coming of Christ, but all who have died before; the grave shall surrender the bodies of men, hell shall surrender the souls of the wicked, the sea shall surrender the many who seemed to have been lost in it” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, Rev. 20:11-15).
It is important to note that all people before the throne of God stand in judgment. Believers stand before the judgment seat of Christ; unbelievers stand before the great white throne. Some may have sat on kings’ thrones or judges’ benches on earth, but they all stand before the Judge of the universe and give an account of their lives.
For believers, the result is reward or loss of reward, leading to life everlasting in the presence of Jesus. For unbelievers, the result is being sent from His presence into everlasting darkness. Even so, all bend the knee to the Son of God. Paul writes to the Philippians that one day “every knee will bow – of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth – and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10-11).
The believer’s knee bows in humble adoration, and any crown placed upon her head is cast at Jesus’ feet. The unbeliever’s knee bows in grudging acknowledgement that while she will have her way and live forever apart from Jesus, He is the ultimate Master with the authority to rule over the human heart.
Joseph Seiss writes, “We read of no white robes, no spotless linen, no palms, nothing but naked sinners before the naked majesty of enthroned Almightiness, awaiting their eternal doom” (The Apocalypse: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation, p. 479).
Next: Books were opened – Revelation 20:12b