11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
The concept of being judged by God is one that causes many people to shutter or utterly revolt. Many do not want to think of God as judging, and they certainly do not want to be judged themselves. But the Bible does not offer non-judgment as an option. All mankind, small and great, will be judged by God.
Now, if you want options in your judgment, there is good news. God offers an option. The option is not whether or not you will be judged. Instead, the option is by what you will be judged. I think we can all agree, if we have to be judged, it is very good for us to be judged with options on our part as to what God uses to judge us.
Peeking at Revelation 20’s judgment scene, we see that all people are judged, and their judgment occurs in one of two ways. There are books and a book. In the books (plural), we see a record of the deeds of all people (I wonder if this has been upgraded to USB memory). In the book, singular, we see what appears to be a list of names.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Those who are judged by the books (plural) are judged by God based on their deeds in life. When you ask almost anyone if they expect to go to heaven when they die, they almost always say that they expect to go to heaven because they haven’t been an utterly bad person. However, Revelation 20 makes it plain that all who are judged by the content of the books, that is by the list of their deeds, will be sentenced to an eternity in hell. This is because no one, not even the best person you know, is a good enough person to meet God’s perfect standard of righteousness (cf. Rom 3:10-17, 23).
On the other hand, there are those who are judged by what is in the book (singular). This book, called “the book of life,” is apparently a list of names. These names are the names of all of those who ever have or will become God’s children. This book is a list of those, not who were good people, but who have come to salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. These people, regardless of what is written in the books, will enter into heaven for eternity because their names are written in the list of those who are redeemed, rescued, saved by Jesus Christ.
This judgment passage is a perfect place to take a friend to help them to see the truth of the gospel in a striking scene. If we are judged according to our works, we go to hell; and that includes every last one of us. If, however, we place our full trust in Jesus Christ, we go to heaven, regardless of our pasts. Salvation is a gift of God, fully based on the perfection of Jesus and not on our goodness or lack thereof.
Every person will choose how they are judged. Will you be judged by your works? If so, you will end up in hell. Will you be instead judged by the book? If so, you must trust in Jesus. All who come to Jesus in faith will be saved, and they will find that their name has been written in God’s book from before the dawn of time (cf. Rev 13:8). As long as your name is on that list, you will spend forever in heaven with God, not because you are good, but because Jesus is very, very good.