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.
Rev. 14:15 – Another angel came out of the sanctuary, crying out in a loud voice to the One who was seated on the cloud, “Use your sickle and reap, for the time to reap has come, since the harvest of the earth is ripe.” 16 So the One seated on the cloud swung His sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested. (HCSB)
The earth was harvested
John picks up the narrative in verses 15-16: “Another angel came out of the sanctuary, crying out in a loud voice to the One who was seated on the cloud, ‘Use your sickle and reap, for the time to reap has come, since the harvest of the earth is ripe.’ So the One seated on the cloud swung His sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested.”
The harvest in these verses, though not stated explicitly, refers to wheat or barley. The word for ripe (Gr.: xeraino) describes dried heads of grain and is different than the word used of ripened grapes in verse 18.
The phrase “another angel” does not imply that the “One like the Son of Man” is an angel. John simply is continuing his observation from the point of the three angels in verses 6-13. This angel comes out of the sanctuary and heads straight for the One holding the sickle. He bears a message from God the Father, who is seated on His throne in the heavenly Holy of Holies (Rev. 6:9; 8:3; 11:19). The message is simple: The time to reap has come; the earth is ripe for harvest. The One seated on the cloud asks no questions, nor does He hesitate. He swings His sickle over the earth, and it is harvested.
No doubt this is a harvest of people on the earth. But who are they? Commentators differ in their understanding of this passage. Some believe this is the harvest of the just, coming before the harvest of the unbelievers (vv. 17-20); it is distinct just as the wheat harvest is distinct from the harvest of grapes. Others, however, argue that scripture normally speaks only of unbelievers being cut down. Therefore, both the One like the Son of Man and the angel with the sickle are engaged in destroying the wicked; one harvest, two perspectives.
Rev. 13:8 – All those who live on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name was not written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slaughtered. (HCSB)
The sovereignty of God and the freedom of human beings are two seemingly irreconcilable biblical truths. Just as Satan acts freely to empower a beast who acts freely, those who worship these evil beings act freely as well. They make choices for which they are held accountable, and unbelievers will join Satan, the beast and the false prophet in the lake of fire. At the same time, their deeds are known to God and always have been known by Him, just as the willful acts of believers always have been in God’s view.
While some argue that God merely foresees the faith of the righteous and the rebellion of the unrighteous, and others contend that God has determined all things (without becoming the Author of sin or the Creator of a fixed game), it appears the ways of God are beyond human understanding. If God can allow Satan and his minions to slaughter countless Christians for no other reason than their staunch faith in His Son, and through these sinful acts enable believers to conquer the dragon by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony, can He not also allow unbelievers to worship a false Messiah and vindicate Himself in their judgment?
We do God a disservice when we accuse Him either of dispassionate sovereignty or spineless foreknowledge. He is sovereign. He knows all things. He has all power and authority. And in the midst of this mind-boggling transcendence, He created people in His image and entrusted them with the ability to make choices for which they are held responsible. Though the beast-worshiping unbelievers of Revelation 13 are excluded from the Lamb’s book of life, they would never have signed their names anyway – even if the Son of God opened the pages Himself and offered them a pen.
Where we are:
Part 1: Judgment
Part 2: Historical Interlude
Part 3: Salvation
When this takes place:
Some commentators believe this chapter was written during the reign of Jotham or Ahaz because of the description of Judah in verses 6-8. But it may be better to consider King Uzziah’s reign, which was noted for its prosperity, power and pride. More specifically, Isaiah’s sermons in chapters 2-12 likely happened some time after the Syro-Ephraimite War in 734-32 B.C. In any case, this prophecy was given during the early years of Isaiah’s ministry.
Isa. 2:12: For the LORD of hosts will have a day of reckoning against everyone who is proud and lofty and against everyone who is lifted up, that he may be abased. (NASB)
The Lord will establish His kingdom on earth in “the last days,” and will executive judgment in a “day of reckoning.”
It’s clear that chapter 2 addresses the future, particularly the last days. Note how Isaiah identifies this time:
- “the last days” (v. 2)
- “on that day” (v. 11)
- “a day belonging to the Lord of Hosts is [coming]” (HCSB) / “the Lord of Hosts will have a day of reckoning” (NASB) (v. 12)
- “the Lord alone will be exalted on that day” (v. 17)
- “On that day” (v. 20)
- “when He rises to terrify the earth” (v. 21)
The city of peace (Isa. 2:1-4)
The first four verses of this chapter describe a future day in which a final and lasting peace comes to the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. At least two things are clear: God is the One who establishes and maintains this lasting peace, and He does it in “the last days,” or, from a New Testament perspective, in the days encompassing the first and second comings of Christ.
The term “last days” is used at least 13 times in the Bible (HCSB) and describes the final period of the world as we know it. In the Old Testament, the last days are anticipated as the age of Messianic fulfillment (Isa. 2:2; Micah 4:1), while the New Testament writers consider themselves living in the last days – the era of the gospel (Acts 2:17; Heb. 1:2). “The last days, then, are the days of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. They are preliminary to and preparatory for the last day of final judgment of unbelievers and the dawn of eternal glory for believers” (Tyndale Bible Dictionary, p. 800).
Gary V. Smith adds a cautionary note: “The phrase ‘in the last days’ cannot be associated with the millennium or with the church age in Isaiah’s thinking, because such concepts were not known to the prophet. He is simply talking about the last events in human history, when the kingdom of God would begin. New Testament readers must be careful not to read later NT information back into earlier texts and make them say things that God did not reveal to the prophets” (The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, p. 129).
The plural use of “days” implies a sustained length of time. While those living in Old Testament times may have viewed the coming Messianic age as singular and continuous, New Testament revelation shows us that the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah are to be fulfilled in two stages. First, Messiah will come as the Suffering Servant (Isa. 53), or Lamb of God (John 1:29). Then He will return one day as the Lion of Judah to defeat the wicked and establish His earthly kingdom (Rev. 19:11 – 20:6).
Isaiah’s reference to the “mountain of the Lord” (v. 2) points to His kingdom, authority or rule. One day the kingdoms of men will become the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:24). Isaiah also draws an analogy between the kingdom of God and the Temple on Mount Moriah, which towers above the countryside in Isaiah’s day. The kingdom of God will rise above, overshadow, and nullify the arrogant, warring and fleeting kingdoms of men. The prophet Daniel makes reference to these days when interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s vision of the statue, which symbolized earthly kingdoms: “Then the iron, the fired clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were shattered and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors. The wind carried them away, and not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth” (Dan. 2:35; emphasis mine).
The Lord Himself will settle disputes between nations. Ruling in majesty, power, justice and wisdom, He will so change the nature of worldly authority that people will “turn their swords into plows and their spears into pruning knives” … “and they will never again train for war” (v. 4). These opening verses of chapter 2 are almost identical to Micah 4:1-5.
The Day of the Lord (Isa. 2:5-22)
Verse 12 warns that a day of reckoning is coming. Various translations describe it as:
- “a day belonging to the Lord of Hosts” (HCSB)
- “the day of the Lord” (KJV)
- “a day of reckoning” (NASB)
- “a day against all that is proud and lofty” (ESV)
- “a day in store” (NIV)
“The day of the Lord” is different from the previous reference to “the last days.” Specifically, it refers to God’s supernatural intervention in human history, usually with reference to events that will take place at the end of time. “Most often,” according to Wilmington’s Bible Handbook, “it relates to the Tribulation preceding the return of Christ” (Isa. 2:12).
Isaiah catalogues the reasons God has abandoned His people:
- They have adopted religious superstitions from their neighbors (v. 6).
- They have formed national alliances for strength rather than relying on God (v.6).
- They have accumulated wealth and built up huge armaments rather than trusting God for their provision (v. 7).
- And they have embraced idolatry, worshiping the creature rather than Creator (v. 8; see also Rom. 1:25).
Since Israel has made itself look and act like the heathen nations around it, God will judge Israel in a manner appropriate for the heathen. It’s likely that Isaiah does not see the lengthy time frame of repeated judgment, stretching out more than two millennia into the future, yet he is clear that Judah has been sufficiently rebellious to attract God’s wrath now. “The Lord alone,” he proclaims, “will be exalted on that day” (v. 11). He will break down the arrogance of all people, specifically:
- “cedars” and “oaks” – a reference to haughty nobles and princes (v. 13; see also Amos 2:9; Zech. 11:2).
- “high mountains” and “lofty hills” – an image of government and society (v. 14).
- “every high tower” and “every fortified wall” – a picture of military might (v. 15).
- “every ship of Tarshish” and “every splendid sea vessel” – a reference to commerce (v. 16).
- “human pride” and “the loftiness of men” (v. 17).
- “idols” (v. 18).
While these appear to be figurative references, it’s probable that the people of Judah in Uzziah’s day literally took pride in their fortified cities, tall towers, large ships and beautiful trees.
There is a parallel in Rev. 6:15-17 to how the wicked are seen responding to God’s wrath in Isa. 2:19-21: “Then the kings of the earth, the nobles, the military commanders, the rich, the powerful, and every slave and free person hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. And they said to the mountains and to the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of the One seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, because the great day of Their wrath has come! And who is able to stand?'” Just as God will bring judgment on His people for their rebellion in Isaiah’s day – through the Assyrian and Babylonian empires – the Lord Himself will execute judgment directly on the whole earth on “the last day.”
There is hope for Judah in Isaiah’s day, as there is for us today. “Come and let us walk in the Lord’s light,” the prophet urges in verse 5, adding in verse 22, “Put no more trust in man, who has only the breath in his nostrils. What is he really worth?”
Gary V. Smith summarizes: “This sermon provides two unmistakable theological choices to any reader/listener. One can follow the path of proud leaders like Uzziah, or a person can ‘stop trusting in man’ now and exalt God alone. The theological choice is clear and presented as two opposite alternatives with two opposite consequences: life with God in his glorious kingdom (2:1-5), or frightful humiliation and destruction (2:6-22). There is no middle ground for people to hide” (Smith, p. 142).
Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips