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.
Where we are:
|Part 1: Judgment||Part 2: Historical Interlude||Part 3: Salvation|
|Chapters 1-35||Chapters 36-39||Chapters 40-66|
When this takes place:
Chapter 45 is part of the second major section of Isaiah and deals less with Judah’s immediate plight than with its future deliverance from Babylonian exile.
Isa. 45:12-13 – “I made the earth, and created man on it. It was My hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host. I have raised him [Cyrus] up in righteousness, and will level all roads for him. He will rebuild My city, and set My exiles free, not for a price or a bribe,” says the Lord of Hosts.
Isaiah prophesies that Cyrus the Great, founder of the Persian Empire, will be God’s chosen servant to free the Jewish exiles from Babylonian captivity and restore them to their homeland. The Lord, who “made the earth, and created man on it” (v. 12), will empower Cyrus to crush the Gentile nations for the benefit of Israel and the glory of God.
That the Lord controls human history is evident from His many declarations in this chapter, among them:
- “I will go before you and level the uneven places” (v. 2).
- “I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches from secret places” (v.3).
- “I call you by your name” (v. 4).
- “I will strengthen you, though you do not know me” (v. 5).
- “I make success and create disaster” (v. 7).
- “Woe to the one who argues with his Maker” (v. 9).
- “It was My hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host” (v. 12).
- “Israel will be saved by the Lord” (v. 17).
- “Every knee will bow to Me, every tongue will swear allegiance” (v. 23).
So All May Know (Isa. 45:1-13)
In chapter 44, the Lord names the Persian king who will free the Jews from Babylonian captivity and return them to their homeland – 150 years before this king is born. Cyrus is called “My shepherd” in chapter 44 and now “His anointed” in chapter 45. The word “anointed” refers to the relationship between the Lord and Israel’s first two kings, Saul and David (1 Sam. 10:1, 16:6). Since Israel will have no king in exile, Cyrus will function in this role to bring about God’s blessings. “Like the Messiah (lit. ‘the Anointed One’) who would come after him, Cyrus would have a twofold mission: to free the people, and to bring God’s judgment on unbelievers” (John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1099).
Cyrus will conquer other nations with God’s help and fill his coffers with their treasures. His defeat of Lydia and Babylon are two examples. All of this is for the sake of God’s people and despite the fact that Cyrus does not acknowledge the Lord as the true God. This is an important lesson in history and contemporary culture. The Lord is sovereign over His creatures and is moving human history to its climax in the “glorious appearing” of Messiah. If He can enable Sampson to use the jawbone of a donkey to smite the Philistines (Judges 15:14-16), empower a donkey to prophesy (Num. 22:22-31) and write with His invisible hand on the wall of a king’s palace (Dan. 5:5), He can use a pagan king to rescue His people and restore them to their homeland. Never think that the success of the wicked is due to a twisted sense of justice on God’s part or His lack of interest in the affairs of mankind. The Lord is omniscient and omnipresent; nothing escapes His attention.
Verses 5-7 emphasize the uniqueness of God, a theme repeated often in chapters 43-46. The Lord is not universally recognized in Cyrus’ day, but the day is coming when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord (Phil. 2:10-11). The words “light” and “darkness,” “success” and “disaster” in verse 7 are Hebrew expressions of opposites suggesting all that is. Every event in human history comes from the Lord – not that He is the author of evil (James 1:13), but that He is able to turn mankind’s wicked deeds into ultimate good (Gen. 50:20). No one may trick God, or thwart His purposes.
Verse 8 provides a graphic glimpse of the Lord’s ministry during the millennium. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck write, “When the millennial kingdom is established on the earth the heavens, figuratively speaking, will rain down righteousness (God’s standards will be followed). And salvation, like a great harvest, will spring up. That is, people everywhere will know the Lord (cf. v. 6; 11:9; Hab. 2:14)” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1100)
In verses 9-13 it is clear that those who question the Lord’s sovereignty invite His woes. A potsherd, a broken and discarded piece of pottery, has no right to question the potter. Neither does a child have the right to question why her parents brought her into the world. In the same way, Israel has no justification for challenging God’s decision to raise up Cyrus as His “shepherd” and “anointed one” to deliver the Jews from Babylonian bondage. The people may inquire of God and seek to understand His ways, but they must never question His authority, as Maker, to direct human history. The Lord later reminds the Jews, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My ways…. For as heaven is higher than earth, so My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8-9).
Turn to Me and be Saved (Isa. 45:14-25)
In the millennium, the nations will realize that Israel’s God is the only true God, and they will acknowledge Him. People from Egypt and Cush – and even the Sabeans, known as majestic men of stature – will be subservient to the Jews and declare “there is no other God” (v. 14). Although Isaiah admits that the Lord, at times, seems to hide Himself, He is without a doubt the Savior of Israel. While those who worship false gods will be ashamed because their gods cannot save them, the Jews will never be ashamed because they will enjoy God’s presence throughout eternity. During their coming days in captivity in Babylon, God’s people can count on Him to send Cyrus to deliver them. The Lord offers two proofs. First, He is the Creator of heaven and earth, in complete control of kings and kingdoms. Second, He is truth (see also John 14:6); whatever He speaks is right. God’s people are assured of their redemption because God has determined it and has spoken truthfully that it will come to pass.
The Lord invites the Gentiles who will escape Cyrus’ sword to present their case before Him. The futility of praying to hand-made wooden gods will be exposed, and any case the pagans can muster in favor of idol worship will fall on the deaf ears of gods who “cannot save” and “have no knowledge” (v. 20). Which of the idols can name the Jews’ deliverer a century before his birth? And which of the carved wooden statues can save a nation from exile? Only the God who “announced it from ancient times.” He declares, “There is no God but Me, a righteous God and Savior; there is no one except Me” (v. 21).
The final verses of this chapter mark God’s gracious call to all the world’s inhabitants to repent and be saved. The Lord affirms once again that He is the only true God and, as such, the only means of salvation. “Every knee will bow to Me, every tongue will swear allegiance,” He states in verse 23. The New Testament boldly applies this passage to Christ, directly in Phil. 2:10-11 and indirectly in Rom. 14:9, 11:
- “… so that at the name of Jesus every knee should 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).
- “Christ died and came to life for this: that He might rule over both the dead and the living. But you, why do you criticize your brother? Or you, why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written: As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to Me, and every tongue will give praise to God” (Rom. 14:9-11).
Even so, many people will continue to rebel against God. And while the Lord allows them to wallow in their sins for a while, ultimately they will be “put to shame” (v. 24). The apostle Paul warns unbelievers that one day they will stand before God “without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). The apostle John provides more graphic details of the final judgment of the wicked: “And anyone not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:15).
However, the redeemed of Israel will rejoice in being justified, or made righteous in the Lord. While this passage is a message of hope to the Jews under siege by the Assyrians, and facing future exile at the hands of the Babylonians, we are not to conclude that all Jews will receive eternal life just because of their nationality. Rather, Isaiah is speaking of a nation of redeemed Jews who have turned from unbelief and embraced their Lord and Savior. By the same token, we are not to assume that only Jews will be saved, for the Lord invites all the nations to turn to Him, and the apostle Paul makes much of the fact that Jews and Gentiles alike are grafted together to make up the people of God (Rom. 11:11-24). John confirms this in Rev. 5:9: “You redeemed [people] for God by Your blood from every tribe and language and people and nation.”
Matthew Henry writes: “All true Christians, that depend upon Christ for strength and righteousness, in him shall be justified and shall glory in that. Observe, First, All believers are the seed of Israel, an upright praying seed. Secondly, The great privilege they enjoy by Jesus Christ is that in him, and for his sake, they are justified before God, Christ being made of God to them righteousness…. Thirdly, The great duty believers owe to Christ is to glory in him, and to make their boast of him” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 45:20).
Copyright 2010 by Rob Phillips