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.
As we draw near the end of the book of Revelation, we see the great white throne judgment. There all people who have not already been raised to life experience their resurrection and the confirmation of their eternal destination.* When the people are brought before the throne of Christ, we see a dichotomy. There are two ways a person can be judged. There are books and there is a book.
The passage above shows us that a person judged by the “books” is judged based on his own deeds. What did you do in your life? A person judged by the “book of life” is given life simply based on whether or not his name is present there. The bottom line is that, if God judges you based on what you do, your works, you die forever. If, however, you are under the grace of Jesus, the Lamb, you live eternally in glorious joy.
Think of some other popular pairs in Scripture, and this scene develops some greater clarity. In the garden, God pointed out two trees: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam was forbidden the tree of knowledge. If he chose to eat of that tree, he would die. God, in the garden, had a very simple test for Adam. If the man would obey God’s command, he would live. If he rebelled against that command, he would die.
Of course, the two trees also remind us of the two choices for humanity’s representative leadership, our federal head. Adam is the original representative of mankind before god. All who remain under Adam’s representation die. Adam sinned and brought guilt on all humanity as we see in Romans 5:12-19 and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22. Under Adam, the command to live perfectly before God still applies, any failure still brings death, but there is no way to live well enough to earn life.
God sent Jesus into the world to be the second Adam, the better Adam, the true and perfect representative for mankind. If a person is found in Christ, even if that person has not lived up to God’s standard of perfection, he will live because of the perfection of Christ. Jesus, God in flesh, lived the perfection Adam never did. Jesus died a perfect sacrificial death. Jesus rose from the grave, defeated death, and proved that all who come to him are forgiven. Jesus is now the representative of all who come to him in faith. God actually grants to the saved the legal record of Jesus’ perfection.
Put the books, the trees, Adam, and Jesus all in one scene now and see how clearly the Bible has been telling one single story. You have a choice of trees. Will you have the tree of life or the tree of death? You have a choice; will you be represented by Adam or by Jesus? You have a choice; will you be judged by your own actions in the books, or will you be found forgiven by Jesus with your name in the book of life? There is no third option. Either you try to live as your own master and die, or you surrender to Jesus and receive all the grace he offers. Choose life. Choose the Christ. Choose the book of life.
* I view Revelation 20 from a historic pre-millennial position (not dispensationalism). Thus, I believe that two resurrections are being promised, the resurrection of the forgiven and the later resurrection of the lost.