Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

Revelation 20:12

And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.
New American Standard Version

Bible Study Resources

Concordances:
Nave's Topical Bible - Book;   Death;   Judgment;   Millennium;   Vision;   Scofield Reference Index - Day (of Destruction);   Death;   Judgment;   Judgments;   Summary;   Thompson Chain Reference - Book;   Future, the;   God;   Judge;   Judgment;   Last Judgment;   Universal;   The Topic Concordance - Death;   Hell;   Judgment;   Torrey's Topical Textbook - Books;   Judgment, the;   Second Coming of Christ, the;  
Dictionaries:
American Tract Society Bible Dictionary - Judgment;   Bridgeway Bible Dictionary - Book of life;   Ethics;   Judgment;   Resurrection;   Throne;   Baker Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology - Condemnation;   Judgment, Day of;   Providence of God;   Punishment;   Wages;   Charles Buck Theological Dictionary - Croisade, or Crusade;   Judgment, Last;   Resurrection;   CARM Theological Dictionary - Amillennialism;   Annihilationism;   Death;   Judgment;   Easton Bible Dictionary - Judgment, the Final;   Fausset Bible Dictionary - Book;   Impute;   Revelation of John, the;   Holman Bible Dictionary - Book of Life;   Eschatology;   Judgment Day;   Revelation, the Book of;   Works;   Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible - Book of Life;   Chiliasm;   Resurrection;   Time;   Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament - Book of Life;   Brotherly Love;   Day of Judgment;   Enoch Book of;   Eschatology;   Guilt (2);   Immortality;   Judgment;   Judgment Damnation;   Life and Death;   Resurrection;   Sanctify, Sanctification;   Sin;   Morrish Bible Dictionary - Book;   Book of Life, the;   Works;   The Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary - Book;   Fire;   Gog;   Judge;   People's Dictionary of the Bible - Judgment the day of;   Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary - Judgment;  
Encyclopedias:
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia - Book of Life;   Dead;   Eschatology of the Old Testament (with Apocryphal and Apocalyptic Writings);   Immortal;   Print;   Punishment, Everlasting;   Resurrection;   Revelation of John:;   Satan;   The Jewish Encyclopedia - Book of Life;  

Adam Clarke Commentary

The dead, small and great - All ranks, degrees, and conditions of men. This description seems to refer to Daniel 7:9, Daniel 7:10.

And the books were opened - See Daniel 12:1. "Rab. Jehuda said: All the actions of men, whether good or bad, are written in a book, and of all they shall give account." - Sohar Gen., fol. 79, col. 298. "How careful should men be to shun vice, and to act uprightly before the holy blessed God, seeing there are so many which go throughout the earth, see the works of men, testify of them, and write them in a book!" - Ibid., fol. 105, col. 417.

"In the first day of the new year the holy blessed God sits that he may judge the world; and all men, without exception, give an account of themselves; and the books of the living and the dead are opened."

Sohar Chadash, fol. 19, 1.

The books mentioned here were the books of the living and the dead, or the book of life and the book of death: that is, the account of the good and evil actions of men; the former leading to life, the latter to death. St. John evidently alludes here to Daniel 7:10, on which the rabbinical account of the books appears to be founded. The expressions are figurative in both.

According to their works - And according to their faith also, for their works would be the proof whether their faith were true or false; but faith exclusively could be no rule in such a procedure.

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Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Revelation 20:12". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/revelation-20.html. 1832.

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

And I saw the dead, small and great - All the dead - for this language would express that - the whole race being composed of the “small and great.” Thus, in other language, the same idea might be expressed by saying, the young and old; the rich and poor; the bond and free; the sick and well; the happy and the unhappy; the righteous and the wicked; for all the human family might, in these respects, be considered as thus divided. The fair meaning in this place therefore is, that all the dead would be there, and of course this would preclude the idea of a “previous” resurrection of any part of the dead, as of the saints, at the beginning of the millennium. There is no intimation here that it is the wicked dead that are referred to in this description of the final judgment. It is the judgment of all the dead.

Stand before God - That is, they appear thus to be judged. The word “God” here must naturally refer to the final Judge on the throne, and there can be no doubt (see Matthew 25:31) that this is the Lord Jesus. Compare 2 Corinthians 5:10. None can judge the secrets of the heart; none can pronounce on the moral character of all mankind, of all countries and ages, and determine their everlasting allotment, but he who is divine.

And the books were opened - That is, the books containing the record of human deeds. The representation is, that all that people have done is recorded, and that it will be exhibited on the final trial, and will constitute the basis of the last judgment. The imagery seems to be derived from the accusations made against such as are arraigned before human courts of justice.

And another book was opened, which is the book of life - The book containing the record of the names of all who shall enter into life, or into heaven. See the notes on Revelation 3:5. The meaning here is, that John saw not only the general books opened containing the records of the deeds of people, but that he had a distinct view of the list or roll of those who were the followers of the Lamb. It would seem that in regard to the multitudes of the impenitent and the wicked, the judgment will proceed “on their deeds” in general; in regard to the righteous, it will turn on the fact that their names had been enrolled in the book of life. That will be sufficient to determine the nature of the sentence that is to be passed on them. He will be safe whose name is found in the book of life; no one will be safe who is to have his eternal destiny determined by his own deeds. This passage proves particularly that the righteous dead are referred to here as being present at the final judgment; and is thus an additional argument against the supposition of a resurrection of the righteous, and a judgment on them, at the beginning of the millennium.

And the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books - The records which had been made of their deeds. The final judgment will proceed on the record that has been made. It will not be arbitrary, and will not be determined by rank, condition, or profession, but it will be according to the record.

According to their works - See the notes on 2 Corinthians 5:10. The fact that the name of anyone was found in the book of life would seem, as above remarked, to determine the “certainty” of salvation; but the amount of reward would be in proportion to the service rendered to the Redeemer, and the attainments made in piety.

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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Revelation 20:12". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/revelation-20.html. 1870.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

And I saw the dead,.... An account being given of the Judge, next the persons to be judged are described, and in this clause, by the state and condition in which they had been; for it cannot be thought they were dead when they stood before the throne, but were raised from the dead; for this character is not descriptive of them as dead in trespasses and sins, though they are such as die in their sins, and rise in them, who are meant, but as having been corporeally dead; these are the rest of the dead, the wicked, who lived not again until the thousand years were ended, Revelation 20:5 as for the righteous, they will be judged upon their resurrection from the dead in the beginning of the day of the Lord; and will be declared righteous and blessed, and be called upon and introduced to inherit the kingdom prepared for them, which they shall have possessed a thousand years when these wicked dead will be raised: who are said to be small and great; which may refer either to their age, being children and adult persons; or to their condition, being kings and peasants, high and low, rich and poor; or to their characters, as greater or lesser sinners; and this description respects them as they are in this world, and is designed to show that no consideration whatever, of age, condition, or character, will exempt them from the general judgment. This is a way of speaking used among the JewsF8Tzeror Hammor, fol. 154. 2. , who say,

"in the world of souls, הגדולים וחקטנים, "the great and the small", stand before God.'

The disputations of the schoolmen, about the age and stature in which mankind will rise and be judged, are vain and foolish: these John saw stand before God; that is, Christ, who is God and Judge of all; before his judgment seat and throne, in order to be judged; for they will stand not as ministering to him, nor as having confidence before him; in this sense they shall not stand in the judgment, Psalm 1:5 but as guilty persons, to receive their sentence of condemnation. The Alexandrian copy, the Vulgate Latin, and all the Oriental versions read, "before the throne"; the sense is the same; for if they stood before the throne, they must stand before God, that sat upon it: and the books were opened; the book of God's omniscience, which contains all the actions of the wicked, in which all their sins are taken notice of, and will now be brought to light; and the book of his remembrance, in which they are all written as with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond; and the book of the creatures, which they have abused, and which will witness against them; and the book of providence, the riches of whose goodness have been despised by them; and the book of the Scriptures, both of law and Gospel, as well as the book of nature, of the light of nature, see Romans 2:12 to which may be added, the book of conscience; the consciences of men will be awakened, and will accuse them, and bear witness against them, and be as good as a thousand witnesses:

and another book was opened, which is the book of life: the same that is mentioned in Revelation 3:5 the book of eternal election, See Gill on Revelation 3:5, See Gill on Revelation 13:8, See Gill on Revelation 17:8. No other use seems to be made of this book in the judgment of the wicked, than only to observe whose names were not written in it, as appears from Revelation 20:15 reference seems to be had to Daniel 7:10. It is a notion that has obtained among the JewsF9T. Bab. Roshhashanah, fol. 16. 21. , that

"at the beginning of the year (or every new year's day) ג ספרים נפתחין, "three books are opened", one of the wicked perfect, another of the righteous perfect, and a third of those between both; the righteous perfect are written and sealed immediately for life; the wicked perfect are written and sealed immediately for death; the middlemost are in suspense, and continue from the beginning of the year to the day of atonement; if they are worthy, they are written for life, if not worthy, they are written for death:'

and in the same treatiseF11T. Bab. Roshhashanah, fol. 32. 2. & Erachin, fol. 10. 2. , they represent God at the same time of the year as a

"King, sitting on a throne of judgment, and the books of the living, and the books of the dead, פתוחין, "open", before him:'

this with them was a prelude and a figure of the future judgment:

and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works; that is, they were sentenced to everlasting condemnation and death, according to the just demerit of their wicked works; for no other are done by wicked men, nor can any other be in the books, since they are without God and Christ, and destitute of the Spirit, have no principle of grace to act from, nor any good end in view in any action of theirs. So the Jews sayF12Zohar in Gen. fol. 118. 3. ,

"all the works which a man does in this world are "written in a book", and they come into thought before the holy King, and they are manifest before him.'

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The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855
Bibliographical Information
Gill, John. "Commentary on Revelation 20:12". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/revelation-20.html. 1999.

Geneva Study Bible

And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before 22 God; and the 23 books were opened: and another book was opened, which is [the book] 24 of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.

(22) That is, Christ the judge; (2 Corinthians 5:10).

(23) As it were, his books of reckoning or accounts, that is, the testimony of our conscience, and of our works, which by no means can be avoided.

(24) The book of the eternal decree of God, in which God the Father has elected in Christ according to the good pleasure of his will, those that shall be heirs of life. This also is spoken according to the manner of men.

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Bibliographical Information
Beza, Theodore. "Commentary on Revelation 20:12". "The 1599 Geneva Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/gsb/revelation-20.html. 1599-1645.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

the dead — “the rest of the dead” who did not share the first resurrection, and those who died during the millennium.

small and great — B has “the small and the great.” A, Vulgate, Syriac, and Andreas have “the great and the small.” The wicked who had died from the time of Adam to Christ‘s second advent, and all the righteous and wicked who had died during and after the millennium, shall then have their eternal portion assigned to them. The godly who were transfigured and reigned with Christ during it, shall also be present, not indeed to have their portion assigned as if for the first time (for that shall have been fixed long before, John 5:24), but to have it confirmed for ever, and that God‘s righteousness may be vindicated in the case of both the saved and the lost, in the presence of an assembled universe. Compare “We must ALL appear,” etc. Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10. The saints having been first pronounced just themselves by Christ out of “the book of life,” shall sit as assessors of the Judge. Compare Matthew 25:31, Matthew 25:32, Matthew 25:40, “these My brethren.” God‘s omniscience will not allow the most insignificant to escape unobserved, and His omnipotence will cause the mightiest to obey the summons. The living are not specially mentioned: as these all shall probably first (before the destruction of the ungodly, Revelation 20:9) be transfigured, and caught up with the saints long previously transfigured; and though present for the confirmation of their justification by the Judge, shall not then first have their eternal state assigned to them, but shall sit as assessors with the Judge.

the books  …  opened — (Daniel 7:10). The books of God‘s remembrance, alike of the evil and the good (Psalm 56:8; Psalm 139:4; Malachi 3:16): conscience (Romans 2:15, Romans 2:16), the word of Christ (John 12:48), the law (Galatians 3:10), God‘s eternal counsel (Psalm 139:16).

book of life — (Revelation 3:5; Revelation 13:8; Revelation 21:27; Exodus 32:32, Exodus 32:33; Psalm 69:28; Daniel 12:1; Philippians 4:3). Besides the general book recording the works of all, there is a special book for believers in which their names are written, not for their works, but for the work of Christ for, and in, them. Therefore it is called, “the Lamb‘s book of life.” Electing grace has singled them out from the general mass.

according to their works — We are justified by faith, but judged according to (not by) our works. For the general judgment is primarily designed for the final vindication of God‘s righteousness before the whole world, which in this checkered dispensation of good and evil, though really ruling the world, has been for the time less manifest. Faith is appreciable by God and the believer alone (Revelation 2:17). But works are appreciable by all. These, then, are made the evidential test to decide men‘s eternal state, thus showing that God‘s administration of judgment is altogether righteous.

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These files are a derivative of an electronic edition prepared from text scanned by Woodside Bible Fellowship.
This expanded edition of the Jameison-Faussett-Brown Commentary is in the public domain and may be freely used and distributed.
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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Revelation 20:12". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfb/revelation-20.html. 1871-8.

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament

The dead, the great and the small (τους νεκρους τους μεγαλους και τους μικρουςtous nekrous tous megalous kai tous mikrous). The general resurrection of Revelation 20:13 is pictured by anticipation as already over. No living are mentioned after the battle of Revelation 20:7-10, though some will be living when Jesus comes to judge the quick and the dead (2 Timothy 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 4:13.). All classes and conditions (Revelation 11:18; Revelation 13:16; Revelation 19:5, Revelation 19:18) John saw “standing before the throne” (εστωτας ενωπιον του τρονουhestōtas enōpion tou thronou).

Books were opened (βιβλια ηνοιχτησανbiblia ēnoichthēsan). First aorist passive of ανοιγωanoigō Like Daniel 7:10. The record of each human being has been kept in God‘s books.

Were judged (εκριτησανekrithēsan). First aorist passive indicative of κρινωkrinō The sentence upon each rests upon written evidence.

Another book which is the book of life (αλλο βιβλιον ο εστιν της ζωηςallo biblion ho estin tēs zōēs). This book has already been mentioned (Revelation 3:5; Revelation 13:8; Revelation 17:8). “It is the roll of living citizens of Jerusalem” (Swete), “the church of the first born enrolled in heaven” (Hebrews 12:23). The books are “the vouchers for the book of life” (Alford). We are saved by grace, but character at last (according to their works) is the test as the fruit of the tree (Matthew 7:16, Matthew 7:20; Matthew 10:32.; 25:31-46; John 15:6; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 2:10; Revelation 2:23; Revelation 20:12; Revelation 22:12).

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The Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. Copyright Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman Press (Southern Baptist Sunday School Board)
Bibliographical Information
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on Revelation 20:12". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rwp/revelation-20.html. Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.

Vincent's Word Studies

Before God

Read θρόνου thronefor Θεοῦ GodSo Rev., before the throne.

The books ( βιβλία )

No article. Read books. Compare Daniel 7:10.

Book of life

See on Revelation 3:5.

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Vincent, Marvin R. DD. "Commentary on Revelation 20:12". "Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/vnt/revelation-20.html. Charles Schribner's Sons. New York, USA. 1887.

Wesley's Explanatory Notes

And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.

And I saw the dead, great and small — Of every age and condition. This includes, also, those who undergo a change equivalent to death, 1 Corinthians 15:51.

And the books — Human judges have their books written with pen and ink: how different is the nature of these books! Were opened - O how many hidden things will then come to light; and how many will have quite another appearance than they had before in the sight of men! With the book of God's omniscience, that of conscience will then exactly tally. The book of natural law, as well as of revealed, will then also be displayed. It is not said, The books will be read: the light of that day will make them visible to all. Then, particularly, shall every man know himself, and that with the last exactness This will be the first true, full, impartial, universal history.

And another book — Wherein are enrolled all that are accepted through the Beloved; all who lived and died in the faith that worketh by love.

Which is the book of life, was opened — What manner of expectation will then be, with regard to the issue of the whole! Malachi 3:16, etc.

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These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
Bibliographical Information
Wesley, John. "Commentary on Revelation 20:12". "John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wen/revelation-20.html. 1765.

Abbott's Illustrated New Testament

The books were opened; the books containing the record of their sins.

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Abbott, John S. C. & Abbott, Jacob. "Commentary on Revelation 20:12". "Abbott's Illustrated New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ain/revelation-20.html. 1878.

Scofield's Reference Notes

judged

The final judgment. The subjects are the "dead." As the redeemed were raised from among the dead one thousand years before Revelation 20:5 and have been in glory with Christ during that period, the "dead" can only be the wicked dead, from the beginning to the setting up of the great white throne in space. As there are degrees of punishment Luke 12:27; Luke 12:48 the dead are judged according to their works. The book of life is there to answer such as plead their works for justification, e.g. Matthew 7:22; Matthew 7:23 an awful blank where the name might have been.

The Judgments, Summary: Among the many judgments mentioned in Scripture, seven are invested with especial significance. These are:

(1) The judgment of the Believer's sins in the cross of Christ (See Scofield "John 12:31").

(2) the believer's self-judgment (See Scofield "1 Corinthians 11:31").

(3) the judgment of the believers' works (See Scofield "2 Corinthians 5:10")

(4) the judgment of the nations at the return of Christ (See Scofield "Matthew 25:32")

(5) the judgment of Israel at the return of Christ (See Scofield "Ezekiel 20:37")

(6) the judgment of angels after the one thousand years (See Scofield "Judges 1:6"), and

(7) the judgment of the wicked dead with which the history of the present earth ends.

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These files are considered public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available in the Online Bible Software Library.
Bibliographical Information
Scofield, C. I. "Scofield Reference Notes on Revelation 20:12". "Scofield Reference Notes (1917 Edition)". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/srn/revelation-20.html. 1917.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.

Ver. 12. Small and great] It is the common opinion that men shall rise again in that tall and goodly stature of body wherein Adam was created; or at least in that vigour of age that a perfect man is at about 33 years old, each in their proper sex. And hereunto some think, the apostle alludeth, Ephesians 4:13. But Mr Brightman holds, that in the resurrection every one shall appear in that stature in which he departed out of this life, and that the contrary opinion doth manifestly contradict this Scripture.

And the books were opened] The books of conscience, saith Origen; of the Scriptures, saith Augustine; of both, say I for according to law written shall the Judge pass sentence, the conscience either accusing or excusing.

Another book] That is, that of God’s decree of free grace; the book that hath our names in it, and our pardon.

The book of life] That God’s elect may be seen and known. God neither needeth nor useth books to judge by; but this is spoken after the manner of men. Mordecai’s name was registered in the Chronicles of Persia. Tamerlane had always by him a catalogue of his best servants, and their good works, which he daily perused.

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Bibliographical Information
Trapp, John. "Commentary on Revelation 20:12". John Trapp Complete Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jtc/revelation-20.html. 1865-1868.

Sermon Bible Commentary

Revelation 20:12

Standing before God.

I. What is meant by standing before God? We are apt to picture to ourselves a great dramatic scene, host beyond host, rank behind rank, the millions who have lived upon the earth, all standing crowded together in the indescribable presence of One who looks not merely at the mass, but at the individual, and sees through the whole life and character of every single soul. The picture is sublime, and it is what the words of St. John are intended to suggest. But we must get behind the picture to its meaning. The picture must describe not one scene only, but the whole nature and condition of the everlasting life. The souls of men in the eternal world are always "standing before God." And what does that mean? We understand at once if we consider that that before which a man stands is the standard, or test, or source of judgment for his life. Every soul that counts itself capable of judgment and responsibility stands in some presence by which the nature of its judgment is decreed. The higher the presence, the loftier and greater, though often the more oppressed and anxious, is the life. A weak man, who wants to shirk the seriousness and anxiety of life, goes down into some lower chamber and stands before some baser judge, whose standard will be less exacting. A strong, ambitious man presses up from judgment-room to judgment-room, and is not satisfied with meeting any standard perfectly so long as there is any higher standard which he has not faced.

II. The dead, small and great, St. John says that he saw standing before God. In that great judgment-day another truth is that the difference of sizes among human lives, of which we make so much, passes away, and all human beings, in simple virtue of their human quality, are called to face the everlasting righteousness. The child and the greybeard, the scholar and the boor, however their lives may have been separated here, they come together there. It is upon the moral ground that the most separated souls must always meet. All may be good: all may be bad; therefore before Him whose nature is the decisive touchstone of goodness and badness in every nature which is laid before it all souls of all the generations of mankind may be assembled. The only place where all can meet, and every soul claim its relationship with every other soul, is before the throne of God. The Father's presence alone furnishes the meeting-place for all the children, regardless of differences of age or wisdom.

III. Another thought which is suggested by St. John's verse is the easy comprehension of the finite by the infinite. All the dead of all the generations stand before God together. But there is no finite, however vast, that can overcrowd the infinite, none that the infinite cannot most easily grasp and hold. St. John says that he saw all the hosts of the dead stand before God. We, too, must see them stand before God, and they will not oppress us. Be sure that if you will begin, not by counting the multitude of the dead and asking yourself how any celestial meadow where you can picture them assembled can hold them all, but by lifting yourself up and laying hold on the infinity of God, you will find range enough in Him for all the marvellous conception of the immortality of all men. Every thought of man depends on what you first think of God.

Phillips Brooks, Twenty Sermons, p. 60.


The Secret Justice of Temporal Providence.

I. The great characteristic of future judgment is that it is open judgment: it declares itself. It does not leave the subject of punishment uncertain, so that a man does not know what he is punished for. All is open and plain dealing. We are told the reason of everything. We naturally connect a future judgment with a revelation of sin. It would seem to be a kind of Magna Charta of the next world that nothing shall be done without making known the grounds on which it is done. It is a transparent world; justice is a public justice, and proclaims its sentence upon the housetops. The whole congregation of God's creatures is made a witness to it, confirms and ratifies the great work of Divine reward and punishment, and stamps the impress of conscience upon it.

II. But, with respect to the justice of this world as conducted under God's providence, we must make very large deductions from this openness. Whatever may be said about the merit of it, and how much good it does, one thing is to be observed: it is not an open justice, like that in the courts of heaven; its characteristic is rather closeness. A great deal is done, and carefully done, by it in the world, and it may be said to achieve many most important ends here, and ends which the Divine government has in view, but it does not declare itself; it punishes largely, and says nothing. You cannot trace the links by which the disadvantages under which you suffer are connected with your faults; but the connection may be closer than you are aware. You complain that there is a falling short from what might have been expected. You struggle on, but there is an absence of advantages. The sun does not shine upon you. It is so, but how do you know to what extent you may yourself have cut off the sunshine?

III. We do not know what this or that particular penalty has been due to, this or that unkind, or ungracious, or selfish act, but we do know generally the kind of faults we are prone to and the risk we run through them. We know, or may know perfectly well if we please, that these evil habits or qualities tend to alienate good men from us. We must be always on our guard, and, so far as this world is governed upon moral principles and upon principles of justice, we must walk in caution and in fear.

IV. The invisible court of our fellow-creatures, which sits behind men's backs, and issues negative punishments, is a true part of providential justice. The will of society upon its members is executed, and that will embodies much which is just and in the true interests of the community. But when we compare the inevitable meanness of the justice of the world and of society, its privacy, its cunning, its closeness, and those tendencies to a low type which are a part of the very system of things—when we compare these with the open court of heaven, the scene to which we turn rises before us as one full of majesty. Here we live amid the privacies and secret management of earthly justice; there we see the type and ideal of justice, for there God is Judge Himself.

J. B. Mozley, Sermons Parochial and Occasional, p. 337.


The Last Assize.

Consider:—

I. He who is to decide our portion for eternity is the very Being who died as our Surety. Who but man can fully sympathise with man? And yet if an angel be not qualified to sit in judgment, how can a man be? A man may have the power of sympathy, which an angel has not; but then he is far inferior to the angels in those other properties which are required, and in some of those properties even angels are altogether deficient. So that, if we would determine who alone seems fitted to bear the office of judge of this creation, we appear to require the insupposable combination—insupposable, we mean, so long as you shut us out from the Gospel—the omniscience of the Deity and the feelings of humanity. We cannot dispense with the omniscience of Deity; we see clearly enough that no finite intelligence can be adequate to that decision which will ensure the thorough justice of future retribution. But then neither can we dispense with the feelings of humanity; at least, we can have no confidence in approaching His tribunal, if we are sure that the difference in nature incapacitates Him from sympathy with those whose sentence He is about to pronounce, and precludes the possibility of His so making our case His own, as to allow of His deciding with due allowance for our feebleness and temptations. And here revelation comes in, and sets before us a Judge in whose person is centred that amazing combination which we have just pronounced as insupposable. This Man, by whom God hath ordained that "He will judge the world in righteousness," is Himself Divine, "the Word which was in the beginning with God, and which was God," He shall come in human form, "and every eye shall see Him," "bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh"; and they who pierced Him shall look upon Him, and recognise through all His majesty the "Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief." It is thus we are assured that mercy and justice will alike have full scope in the transactions of the judgment, and that in appointing that the Mediator who died as our Substitute will preside at our trial God hath equally provided that every decision shall be impartial, and yet every man be dealt with as brother to Him who must determine our fate. It is one of the most beautiful of the arrangements of redemption that the offices of Redeemer and Judge meet in the same Person, and that Person Divine. We call it a beautiful arrangement, as securing towards us tenderness as well as equity, the sympathy of a Friend as well as the disinterestedness of a righteous Arbiter. Had the Judge been only man, the imperfection of His nature would have led us to expect much of error in His verdicts; had He been only God, the distance between Him and ourselves would have made us fear that in determining our lots He would not have taken into account our feebleness and trials.

II. Note the thorough righteousness of the whole procedure of the judgment: "The dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works." Though no man can be saved by his works, every man shall be judged according to his works. If he have believed on Christ (and this is the single appointed mode of salvation), the sincerity of his faith will be proved by his works; and therefore, in being awarded everlasting life, he will be "judged according to his works." If he have not relied on the merits of his Saviour, the want of faith will be evidenced by the deficiency of his works; and therefore will he also as to everlasting misery be judged according to his works. And over and above this general decision, "according to his works," we believe that every particular of conduct will have something corresponding to it in the final retribution. Indeed, the brief description that the judgment will be "in righteousness" comprehends all that can well be advanced on this topic—righteousness, so that nothing shall escape the Judge, and nothing impose on the Judge, and nothing embarrass the Judge. If found in Christ, there is no adversary that can accuse us, if not members of the Mediator, no power that can absolve.

H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 2032.

Reference: Revelation 20:12.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. vii., p. 97.




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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Revelation 20:12". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/sbc/revelation-20.html.

Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament

Revelation 20:12. ἑστῶτας, standing) The standing of infants, of whom by far the greatest part of mankind consists, is surprising.(222)

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Bengel, Johann Albrecht. "Commentary on Revelation 20:12". Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jab/revelation-20.html. 1897.

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

The former verses gave us an account of Christ, the great Judge of the quick and the dead in the last day; the Lord Jesus Christ sat upon a throne of glory, about to execute his last holy and righteous judgment. Now he describes the persons to be judged, viz. all, both

small and great.

And the books were opened: to show the justice and righteousness according to which this Judge would proceed, books are said to be opened. What books? The book of God’s law; the book of God’s omniscience; the book of men’s consciences. In the former is contained what all men should have done; the two latter will discover what they have thought, spake, or done in the flesh.

And another other book was opened, which is the book of life; the book of life, mentioned Revelation 3:5, by which is to be understood the book of God’s election, wherein are the names of all those who, being from eternity chosen to life, were redeemed with the blood of Christ, and afterwards effectually called, justified, and sanctified.

And the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works; according to these books shall the last judgment be, Romans 2:16, with respect had unto every one’s work.

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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Revelation 20:12". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mpc/revelation-20.html. 1685.

Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture

стоящих пред Богом Употреблено в юридическом смысле; сказано как об осужденных виновных, которые стоят перед скамьей Божьего правосудия. В разрушенной вселенной нет живых грешников, так как все грешники были казнены, и все верующие прославлены.

книги В этих книгах записана каждая мысль, слово и поступок грешников; все записано согласно Божьему всеведению (см. пояснение к Дан. 7:10; этот стих является источником этого текста). Они предоставят свидетельство для вечного осуждения. Ср. 18:6, 7.

книга жизни В ней содержатся имена всех спасенных (Дан. 12:1; см. пояснение к 3:5).

судимы сообразно с делами своими Их мысли (Лк. 8:17; Рим. 2:16), слова (Мф. 12:37) и поступки (Мф. 16:27) будут сравниваться с Божьим совершенным, святым образцом (Мф. 5:48; 1Пет. 1:15, 16) и будут найдены легкими, т.е. недостаточными (Рим. 3:23). Это означает, что в аду также есть степени наказания (ср. Мф. 10:14, 15; 11:22; Мк. 12:38-40; Лк. 12:47, 48; Евр. 10:29).

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MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on Revelation 20:12". Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mac/revelation-20.html.

Coffman Commentaries on the Bible

And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne; and books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of the things which were written in the books, according to their works.

And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne ... The general resurrection of all people is assumed to have already occurred at this point in the vision. The dead are there before the throne, standing and waiting for their sentence. The hour has struck which Jesus promised in John 5:28,29. There are no absentees; all are present. "This is the only bodily resurrection that the Scriptures know."[52] The entirety of all people will be there, even the living, who will be "changed" for the occasion (1 Corinthians 15:51).

"And the books were opened"? What are these? We may not presume to give any complete answer, but the Scriptures do give some clues.

AND THE BOOKS WERE OPENED

One of Alexander Campbell's great sermons was based upon this text, the books he mentioned being:

<LINES><MONO>

I. The Book of Nature.

A. "The heavens declare the glory of God" (Psalms 19).

B. "His everlasting power and divinity are perceived through the things that are made" (Romans 1:20).

C. "He left not himself without witness ... he did good, gave rains and fruitful seasons, etc." (Acts 14:17).

D. But there is no such thing as forgiveness in nature. The book of nature does not reveal Christ.

II. The Book of Remembrance.

A. "A book of remembrance was written before him" (Malachi 3:16).

B. "Note it in a book that it may be for the time to come" (Isaiah 30:8,9).

C. "The Lord will bring to light the hidden things" (1 Corinthians 4:5).

D. "Nothing is secret that shall not be made manifest" (Luke 8:17; Romans 2:16).

Note: There are some things that God will not remember (Jeremiah 31:31-35). What the record books contain is determined by what God decides to remember and what he decides to forget.[53]

III. The Old Testament.

The great, continuing witness of all ages is the Bible. The Old Testament continues to be the most impressive witness of the deity and Godhead of Christ in that it establishes his credentials historically for ages prior to the Incarnation.

A. "Search the Scriptures ... for these are they that testify of me" (John 5:34).

B. "All things must needs be fulfilled" (Luke 24:44).

C. "And the Scriptures cannot be broken" (John 10:35).

D. "O, ye fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken" (Luke 24:25; Matthew 22:29).

IV. The New Testament

A. "These sayings of mine" (Matthew 7:24,26).

B. "Whatsoever I commanded you" (Matthew 28:18-20).

C. "My word shall judge him in the last day" (John 12:48).

D. "The word of the Lord (the gospel) endureth forever" (1 Peter 1:35; Matthew 24:35; Hebrews 2:3; 2 Peter 3:2; John 6:68).

V. The Record of Every Man's Works.

All of the sacred writers make it clear that people shall be judged according to their works. Modern theology is very uncomfortable in the light of this truth; but the record of every person's deeds will surely enter into the judgment which he shall receive.

A. Jesus taught this (John 5:29; Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 6:46-49; Matthew 12:27, etc.).

B. Paul taught this (Romans 2:6ff; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Philippians 2:12; 2 Corinthians 6:1, etc.).

C. Peter taught this (Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:12; 3:8-11; 2 Peter 1:10).

D. James taught this (Revelation 2:14,20,24,26, etc.).

E. The apostle John taught this (1 John 2:4,5; 3:7,8,22-24, etc.).

F. This prophecy teaches this (Revelation 2:5; 3:15; 20:13; 14:13, etc.).

VI. The Book of Life.

A. Philippians 4:3.

B. Revelation 3:15; 13:8.

C. Revelation 20:12,15.

D. Revelation 21:27.SIZE>MONO>LINES>

[52] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 604.

[53] G. B. Caird, op. cit., p. 259.

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Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Revelation 20:12". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/revelation-20.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

The dead before this throne are evidently at least the unsaved of all ages who now stand resurrected ( Revelation 20:5; Daniel 12:2). They come from all classes and groups of humanity. The "books" contain a record of their deeds (cf. Deuteronomy 32:34; Psalm 56:8; Isaiah 65:6; Daniel 7:10; Malachi 3:16; Matthew 12:37). The "book of life" contains the names of God"s elect ( Revelation 3:5; Revelation 13:8; Revelation 17:8; Revelation 20:15; Revelation 21:27; Isaiah 4:3; Psalm 69:28; Daniel 12:1; Luke 10:20; Philippians 4:3). God will condemn unbelievers raised to face this judgment because of their works, including failure to believe in Jesus Christ ( John 6:29). Since He will evaluate their deeds, there seems to be a difference in degrees of punishment as there will be differences in rewards for believers (cf. Matthew 11:20-24).

"The teaching of judgment by works runs throughout both the OT and the NT." [Note: Mounce, p365. Cf. Psalm 62:12; Jeremiah 17:10; Romans 2:6; 1 Peter 1:17.]

There is no revelation about what will happen to mortal believers who are alive at the end of the Millennium. Perhaps Satan and his followers will kill them all before God judges the rebels. Another possibility is that they will live through this rebellion and God will give them immortal bodies with which they will be able to enter the new earth. Neither is there information about the divine judgment of these believers. There will probably be a judgment of them since God judges everyone else who has ever lived at one time or another. Probably He will judge them at the end of the Millennium. A resurrection of those of them that died during the Millennium is also probable (cf. Isaiah 65:17-20).

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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Revelation 20:12". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/revelation-20.html. 2012.

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament

Revelation 20:12. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Is this a general judgment? Such is the view generally, though not always, taken. All the dead, not only the wicked, but (as some think) certain classes of the righteous who had had no part in the ‘first resurrection,’ or (as others think) the righteous without exception, are supposed to be included. It is thought that the literal reign of a thousand years had preceded the final determination of the state of any whether good or bad; that this reign is over; and that all, whether they have had a share in its blessedness or not, must now take their stand before the judgment-seat of God, that they may be judged by what they have done. But St. John speaks of ‘the dead,’ and we have already seen that that word is used by him of the wicked only (comp. on Revelation 20:5 and on chap. Revelation 11:18). Such seems to be his meaning here; and that it is so will be abundantly confirmed as we proceed. Nor is the amplification of the term ‘the dead’ by means of ‘the great and the small’ at variance with the idea that the class so described is limited. Similar, at times even greater, amplifications occur elsewhere in connection with classes which the context undeniably confines to one class whether of the wicked or the good (chaps. Revelation 11:18, Revelation 13:16, Revelation 19:5; Revelation 19:18). The ‘dead,’ therefore, are here the wicked alone; and the ‘books’ contain a record of no deeds but theirs. The ‘books’ are indeed expressly distinguished from ‘the book of life.’

And another book was opened which is the book of life, and the dead were judged out of the things which were written in the books according to their works. The words ‘another book’ show that this book is quite distinct from the ‘books’ before mentioned, and that ‘the books’ now spoken of are the ‘books’ of the previous clause. It is indeed possible to conceive that the deeds of the righteous as well as of the wicked (names of persons being necessarily associated with them) may be contained in the ‘books,’ while the ‘book of life’ may at the same time contain a second list of the righteous alone. But this notion of two lists of the righteous seems in a high degree improbable, and the natural conclusion from the words before us is that what are spoken of as the ‘books,’ in distinct contrast with ‘the book of life,’ contain nothing but the names of the wicked and their works. The latter, too, are obviously the only books out of which judgment is pronounced. There is not the slightest indication that the ‘book of life’ was opened for judgment. The only purpose for which it is used is that mentioned in Revelation 20:15. It will be observed, moreover, that no ‘works’ are referred to except those of the wicked. So far, therefore, from being led by a ‘vicious literalism’ to confine the judgment before us to the wicked, such an interpretation appears, at least as far as we have come, to be demanded by a plain and natural exegesis of the text.

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Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Revelation 20:12". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/revelation-20.html. 1879-90.

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Revelation 20:12. And I saw the dead, small and great — Of every age and condition, rank and degree; as well those who perished at sea, and were buried in the waters, as those who died on land, and were buried in graves: all are raised, and stand before the judgment-seat of God, as also those who are found alive at Christ’s second coming, and undergo a change equivalent to death, 1 Corinthians 15:51. All these stand before their Judge, whether they had been rich or poor, kings or subjects, in one grand assembly, waiting to receive their final doom from him who once stood at the bar of a weak and sinful mortal, by whom he was condemned to suffer the ignominious and painful death of crucifixion, but now, how unlike: —

The babe of Bethlehem!

how unlike the man

That groan’d on Calvary!

Yet he it is;

That Man of sorrows!

O how changed!

And the books were opened — The records of the Divine Omniscience on the one hand, and those of the sinners’ consciences on the other; and the book of the natural law, the rule by which those shall be judged who had not been favoured with the Holy Scriptures, and the book of the revealed law, including the Old Testament and the New: by which they shall be judged who were favoured, and as far as they were favoured, with these divine oracles. Human judges have their books written with pen and ink; but how different is the nature of these books, and how many hidden things will be brought to light when they are opened! And how many will have a quite different appearance, in the sight of men, from what they had before? With the book of God’s omniscience that of conscience will exactly tally. It is not said the books will be read; the light of that day will make them visible to all: then particularly shall every man know himself, and that with the utmost exactness. This will be the first true, full, impartial, universal history that was ever published. And now, if these were the only books that will be opened, no flesh could be saved: for all heathen will be found to have violated the law of nature, or to have fallen short of its demands: all Jews to have transgressed the law of Moses, and to have contracted guilt thereby, though in different degrees; and all Christians, so called, to have deviated, more or less, from the spirituality and strictness of the law of Christ, at one time or another. But another book was opened — Wherein were enrolled all that had turned to God in true repentance and living faith, and had been accepted in the Beloved; had been both justified and sanctified through the mediation and grace of Christ, and had lived and died in the possession of that faith in God and his truth, which worketh by love. Which is the book of life — That is, without a figure, that divine wisdom or remembrance, whereby the Lord knows them that are his, namely, them that, in the days of their flesh, had been truly pardoned and renewed in the spirit of their minds; had been taken into God’s favour, stamped with his image, possessed of communion with him, and had brought forth the genuine fruits of righteousness, by a patient continuance in well-doing. All these shall be acquitted at the bar of Christ, and acknowledged as his genuine followers. Nevertheless even these shall be judged out of those things which were written in the books — That is, in a manner agreeable to the tenor of them; according to their works — That is, according as their spirit and conduct, their intentions and affections, their tempers, words, and actions, had been agreeable or disagreeable to the discoveries which God had made to them of his will. In other words their reward shall be greater or less in proportion to the degrees of holiness which they had attained, the endeavours they had used to glorify God, and do good to mankind in their generation, and to the patience and resignation wherewith they had endured the various sufferings which, in the course of Divine Providence, they had been called to sustain for the trial of their grace, and to render them examples of patience to others. On the other hand, those who are not found written in the book of life, (Revelation 20:15,) who in the days of their flesh did not turn to God in repentance, faith, and new obedience, and therefore were not accepted of him through the mediation of his Son, are cast into the lake of fire, where they are punished in different degrees, according to their evil works; that is, according to the unholiness and unrighteousness of their tempers, words, and actions; their internal enmity against, or unlikeness to God, the dishonour they had done to him, and the evil they had done to their fellow-creatures by their iniquitous conduct, including their abuse of their time and talents, of the privileges afforded them, and the various means used in vain to reclaim and bring them to repentance.

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Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Revelation 20:12". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/revelation-20.html. 1857.

Gary Hampton Commentary on Selected Books

All of the dead will be raised in the same hour. (John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15) There willnot be multiple judgments, as some have suggested. Instead, all people of every generation will be judged in one great judgment. (Matthew 25:32; Matthew 11:22; Matthew 11:24; Matthew 12:41-42; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10) Some have suggested the books opened would be the laws of the various covenants under which peopl have lived. However, it seems more likely these books are the records of our lives as we wrote them with our deeds. The "book of life" is often referred to in scripture. (Exodus 32:32-33; Psalms 69:28; Isaiah 4:3; Malachi 3:16; Luke 10:20; Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5; Revelation 13:8; Revelation 17:8; Revelation 21:27) A careful reading of these verses makes it plain this book contains a list of all of God"s redeemed. We will all be judged based upon the way we have lived. (2 Corinthians 5:10; Galatians 6:7-8) The idea of judgment here is a pronouncing of sentence.

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Hampton, Gary. "Commentary on Revelation 20:12". "Gary Hampton Commentary on Selected Books". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ghc/revelation-20.html. 2014.

E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes

the dead. Those of Revelation 20:5. See App-139.

small, &c. Read "the great and the small".

stand = standing.

God. The texts read "the throne".

the. Omit.

life. App-170.

judged. App-122.

those = the.

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Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on Revelation 20:12". "E.W. Bullinger's Companion bible Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bul/revelation-20.html. 1909-1922.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.

The dead - `the rest of the dead' who did not share the first resurrection, and those who died during the millennium.

Small and great. B, 'the small and the great.' A 'Aleph ('), Vulgate, Syriac, Andreas, 'the ('Aleph (') has 'both' for 'the') great and the small' (Revelation 6:15). The wicked who died from Adam to Christ's second advent, and all the righteous and wicked who died during and after the millennium, shall then be judged. The transfigured godly, who reigned with Christ during it, shall also be present, not to have their portion assigned (for that was fixed long before, John 5:24), but to have it confirmed for ever, and that God's righteousness may be vindicated in both the saved and the lost, before an assembled universe. Compare "We must ALL appear," etc. (Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10). The saints having been pronounced just by Christ out of "the book of life," shall be assessors of the Judge, Compare Matthew 25:31-32; Matthew 25:40, "these my brethren." God's omniscience will not allow the least to escape: His omnipotence the mightiest must obey. The living are not mentioned: as these shall probably first (before the destruction of the ungodly, Revelation 20:9) be transfigured, and caught up with the saints long previously transfigured; and though present for confirmation of their justification by the Judge, shall not then first have their eternal state assigned, but sit as Christ's assessors.

The books ... opened - (Daniel 7:10.) The books of God's remembrance, of evil and good (Psalms 56:8; Psalms 139:4; Malachi 3:16): Conscience (Romans 2:15-16), Christ's Word (John 12:48), the Law (Galatians 3:10), God's eternal counsel (Psalms 139:16).

Book of life - (Exodus 32:32-33; Psalms 69:28; Daniel 12:1; Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5; Revelation 13:8; Revelation 21:27.) Besides the general book of all, there is a special book for believers, in which their names are written, not for their works, but for Christ's work for, and in, them: 'the Lamb's book of life.' Electing grace has singled them out from the mass.

According to their works. We are justified by faith, judged according to (not by) our works. The general judgment is designed for the final vindication of God's righteousness before the universe, which in this chequered dispensation, though really ruling, has been less manifest. Faith is appreciable by God and the believer alone (Revelation 2:17). Works are appreciable by all. These, then, are the evidential test to decide men's eternal state, showing that God's government is altogether righteous.

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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Revelation 20:12". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/revelation-20.html. 1871-8.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

The Opening of the Books

And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne; and books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of the things which were written in the books, according to their works.—Revelation 20:12.

1. These words form a significant part of one of the most solemn passages in the Bible. It describes the final judgment, the great assize, in which men appear before God that they may be judged “according to their works.” The throne before which they appear is described as the “great white throne”; great, that is, in contrast to the thrones which are mentioned in the earlier portions of the Book; white as emblematic of the stainless purity of Him who sits upon it. The people who stand before the throne are from every nation and kindred and tribe and tongue. They are now assembled to receive the Judge’s verdict on the lives which they have lived.

2. The imagery was evidently suggested by Daniel’s vision of judgment (Daniel 7:10): “Thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgement was set, and the books were opened.” The idea of a special book of life is to be found in the same prophet (Daniel 12:1): “At that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book.” But this figure can be traced much farther back. We remember the passionate intercession of Moses for his people (Exodus 32:32): “If thou wilt forgive their sin—; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written.” And not to speak of some passages in the prophets, which speak of “those that are written among the living” (Isaiah 4:3; Ezekiel 13:9), one of the imprecations in the Sixty-ninth Psalm (Psalms 69:28) is, “Let them be blotted out of the book of life, and not be written with the righteous.” These Old Testament passages illustrate the meaning of our Lord’s promise (Revelation 3:5) to him that overcometh: “I will in no wise blot his name out of the book of life, and I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.” St. John is not the only New Testament writer who has adopted this language. St. Luke (Luke 10:20) records our Lord’s words to the seventy disciples when they returned successful from their mission, “In this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” The Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 12:23) speaks of “the general assembly and church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven”; and in the Epistle to the Philippians (Philippians 4:3) St. Paul has the very phrase, “Clement also, and the rest of my fellow-workers, whose names are in the book of life.”

I

The Subjects of the Judgment

1. “I saw the dead,” says the Seer, “the great and the small, standing before the throne.” It is often said that this judgment is a judgment of the wicked only, and therefore only for condemnation. But the context suggests that the judgment is extended to all humanity; and only in that sense can the wording of the passage itself be taken. The phrase “the great and the small,” which is of frequent occurrence in the Apocalypse, is a synonym for all men (except where it is expressly limited, Revelation 11:18). The dead, small and great, will stand before God; all will stand, all the righteous, as well as all the wicked, from the Apostles downwards. St. Paul is very emphatic upon the fact that he himself will be judged: “He that judgeth me is the Lord.” “Who will render to every man according to his deeds: to them who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life.” “For we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ; that everyone may receive the things done in his body” (2 Corinthians 5:10). Again, Romans 14:10, “We shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ.” “The Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead, at his appearing and his kingdom” (2 Timothy 4:1).

The real significance of the scene lies in the vivid picturing of that great and solemn truth that we must all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, and that before Him there is nothing hidden which shall not be revealed. Then shall every human life appear in its true light, stripped of all the deceptive adornments which have given a fictitious respectability to ingenious fraud, and a fatal popularity to adroit wickedness and splendid vice. Then shall men be judged, not by rank, or success, or achievement, but according to their works, as it is twice stated here, and according to whether they have any life towards God. The works and the life towards God must be combined. A man may have, from the activities of his Christian works, a name to live and yet be dead: the life-book and the work-book combine to mark the real servant of Christ. If he labours more abundantly than all, it is Christ who works in him, for his life is a life by the faith of the Son of God.1 [Note: W. B. Carpenter, The Book of Revelation, 237.]

2. Why are only the dead mentioned? Why not the living? Swete thinks it is because they form so insignificant a minority; but he suggests also that the omission may be due to the fact that the keen interest which the first generation had felt in the bearing of the Parousia upon the living (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14) had abated before the end of the century.

In that great judgment-day the difference of sizes among human lives, of which we make so much, passes away, and all human beings, in simple virtue of their human quality, are called to face the everlasting righteousness. The child and the greybeard, the scholar and the boor, however their lives may have been separated here, come together there. It is upon the moral ground that the most separated souls must always meet. All may be good: all may be bad: therefore before Him whose nature is the decisive touchstone of goodness and badness in every nature which is laid before it, all souls of all the generations of mankind may be assembled. The only place where all can meet, and every soul claim its relationship with every other soul, is before the throne of God. The Father’s presence alone furnishes the meeting-place for all the children, regardless of differences of age or Wisdom 2 [Note: Phillips Brooks, Twenty Sermons, 60.]

3. What is meant by standing before God? We are apt to picture to ourselves a great dramatic scene, host beyond host, rank behind rank, the millions who have lived upon the earth, all standing crowded together in the indescribable presence of One who looks not merely at the mass but at the individual, and sees through the whole life and character of every single soul. The picture is sublime, and it is what the words of St. John are intended to suggest. But we must get behind the picture to its meaning. The picture must describe not one scene only, but the whole nature and condition of the everlasting life. The souls of men in the eternal world are always “standing before God.” And what does that mean? We understand at once if we consider that that before which a man stands is the standard, or test, or source of judgment for his life. Every soul that counts itself capable of judgment and responsibility stands in some presence by which the nature of its judgment is decreed. The higher the presence, the loftier and greater, though often the more oppressed and anxious, is the life. A weak man who wants to shirk the seriousness and anxiety of life goes down into some lower chamber and stands before some baser judge, whose standard will be less exacting. A strong, ambitious man presses up from judgment-room to judgment-room, and is not satisfied with meeting any standard perfectly so long as there is any higher standard which he has not faced.

The Judge is God, the Father in the Son, the Son in the Father; and thus the judgment is searching and complete and is answered by the consciences of those upon whom it is executed. They see that the Judge’s eye penetrates into the most secret recesses of their hearts, and that He is One who has been in the same position, has fought the same battle, and has endured the same trials as themselves. Thus His sentence finds an echo in their hearts, and they are speechless. Thus also judgment becomes really judgment, and not merely the infliction of punishment by resistless power.1 [Note: W. Milligan, The Book of Revelation, 353.]

“Stand before God”—past kneeling, past praying: not to be converted, but sentenced. Now, not then, is the day of salvation: not then except for the already saved.2 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti, The Face of the Deep, 473.]

II

The Ground of the Judgment

1. “The dead were judged … according to their works.” It is therefore a judgment according to works, according to the things done in the body, which no doubt includes the things spoken and thought. And a judgment according to works is clearly taught in all the Scriptures—in the Gospels (Matthew 16:17 and parallels), by St. Paul (Romans 14:10; Romans 14:12; 1 Corinthians 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Galatians 6:7) and by St. John (John 5:29; Revelation 20:12-13). But there is also another doctrine taught—that salvation is granted to faith, and to faith only. How are these two doctrines to be reconciled?

“The fundamental grace,” says Godet,1 [Note: Studies on the New Testament, 179.] “is that of the forgiveness of sins, and it presupposes no other moral condition than faith only. But this immense act of grace is no sooner granted by God, and accepted by man, than there results from it a new task, with the responsibility which attaches to it. This is the work of sanctification; the renewal of the life in the likeness of Christ. And this is the work, according to which the believer will one day be judged.” Godet recalls by way of illustration the parable of the Unmerciful Servant.

And this is in accordance with reason and experience. In this world men are judged according to their works. “I believe it to be true,” says Dr. Salmon, “that Nature never forgives: the utmost indulgence she bestows is often to postpone the execution of her penalty. In this life the rewards for what is well done are duly paid, the punishment for what is done ill strictly exacted. And what the Bible says is that the same principle is followed in the future life.”

When men cry out against the teaching of an everlasting hell to which they have long listened, nothing could be more mistaken than to try to win their faith by a mere sweeping aside of the whole truth of retribution; nothing could be more futile than to try to make them believe in God by stripping the God we offer them of His Divine attributes of judgment and discrimination. But if there comes, as there must come, out of the tumult a deeper sense of the essential, the eternal connection between character and destiny; if men looking deeper into spiritual life are taught to see that the wrath of God and the love of God are not contradictory, but the inseparable utterances of the one same nature; if punishment be fastened close to sin as the shadow to the substance, able to go, certain to go, where sin can go and nowhere else—then the tumult will bring a peace of deeper and completer faith. But surely it will not be easier for a man to believe the new and deep than the old crude doctrine. It will lay an even deeper and more awful burden on his conscience. It will make life more and not less solemn, when men come to see and feel the punishment in the sin than when they listened for the threats of punishment as men at sea listen for the breakers on the shore while they are sailing in smooth waters, which give them no intimation of how far away or near the breakers are.1 [Note: Phillips Brooks, Essays and Addresses, 50.]

2. At the same time, judgments in this life are not always unerring, or always passed on good grounds; and St. John is probably making a contrast as well as a comparison. He knows that Cæsar has a throne, and that men are made great or small by standing before that throne, but he objects to the ground upon which judgment is given. Men are given their places without reference to character; they are not judged according to their works. Their position is often determined by arbitrary circumstances—family, name, wealth, influence. He sees men stand before a new throne, before a tribunal guided by other principles. Many of the first become last, and many of the last become first. Tiberius, Caligula, Nero, were at the top of the list in the old society; in the new they are very near the end of it—saved from being quite at the end only by the imputation of insanity. And in the place of honour which was held by Tiberius and Caligula and Nero stands many a despised slave, many a deformed outcast,—outcast by reason of his deformity,—many a poor invalid who was considered unfit for survival, and whom the old world’s chariot had passed, contemptuous, by.

A friend of mine who had travelled in America told me that he once heard Colonel Ingersoll lecture on the Last Judgment. That blasphemous atheist described with all the brilliant sarcasm which he possesses the last dread scene, and pictured different characters coming up to receive their sentence. First there came one who had ever helped his neighbour, who in life had done all that he could to make the world brighter and happier; and Jesus, the Supreme Judge, asked him if he believed the story of Eve and the rib; and on his replying in the negative, sentenced him to eternal damnation; and so on with a number of characters. Then there came a defalcating bank director who had broken the heart of the widow and ruined the orphan by his dishonesty and hypocrisy; but he believed this story, and so was rewarded with eternal happiness. Ingersoll’s caricature is more than a caricature; it is a wilful lie.2 [Note: H. S. Lunn.]

III

The Evidence

The evidence is in the books. “The books were opened.” Now the books that are opened may be taken as the records of man’s works wherever they may be found, although Augustine is probably right when he says that there is supposed to be a separate record for every man.

i. The Book of Character

1. We must think, not of a modern volume, but of an ancient book. Such a book would consist of a long band of parchment, or other substance, written over usually on one side only, and rolled upon a roller, so that it would form a scroll, which on being opened out could present all that was written therein to view simultaneously. The fundamental idea of a book is a record. Things that have happened in the history of the world are chronicled in books, or the thoughts that are the history of the inner world of a man are in like manner committed to writing, the object in both cases being to transmit to those who may follow a knowledge of what has been done or thought. Books are to the race what memory is to the individual; hence a book may well be used to signify the mind’s power of recalling the past. The power in God which answers to memory in man is therefore called His “book.”

My page in the Book of Works is to me awful: the contents are my own, the record is not my own. It is my life’s record without oversights, without false entries or suppressions: any good set down accurately as good; all evil, unless erased by Divine Compassion, set down accurately as evil. Nothing whatever is there except what I have genuinely endeavoured, compassed, done, been: I meant it all, though I meant not to meet it again face to face. It is as if all along one had walked in a world of invisible photographic cameras charged with instantaneous plates. The Book of Life may seem yet more awful, kept secret as it has been from the foundation of the world in the knowledge of God Omniscient. Yet is it really so? It is in fact no independent statement, but appears to be essentially an index or summary of the other. I who composed although I compiled not my Book of Works, I myself virtually entered or entered not my name in the corresponding Book of Life: to dread this beyond the other, is to dread a sum total rather than those very items which produce the total. For whilst we read that “the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the Books,” it was none the less “according to their works.”1 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti, The Face of the Deep, 473.]

“Consider” [Emerson writes in his journal in 1838] “that always a license attends reformation. We say, Your actions are not registered in a book by a recording angel for an invisible king,—action number one, number two; up to number one million,—but the retribution that shall be is the same retribution that now is. Base action makes you base; holy action hallows you. Instantly the man is relieved from a terror that girded him like a belt, has lost the energy that terror gave him, and when now the temptation is strong he will taste the sin and know. Now I hate the loss of the tonic. The end is so valuable; to have escaped the degradation of a crime is in itself so pure a benefit that I should not be very scrupulous as to the means. I would thank any blunder, any sleep, any bigot, any fool, that misled me into such a good.”2 [Note: J. E. Cabot, A Memoir of Ralph Waldo Emerson, i. 332.]

2. Each of us writes the book of his own character. Daily and hourly we are writing ourselves down. We bear about with us, in the character we have made, the whole volume of the past. In everything we do and think in the present, in the way we meet every circumstance of life, we go on forming that character. Our book is there, and it will be opened in the hour of judgment.

Has it ever occurred to you as one strong motive to a good and pure and useful life, that we enter the world of spirits, where more things will occur than we in this imperfect state ever dream of, with the very character which we acquire in the world of sense? If we are selfish, cold, and unloving here, we shall be the very same there. Not an attribute of character can death change. It has no power over the immaterial mind, only over the perishable body does its sway extend. When the spirit bursts free and happy into the blaze of eternal day, it will be the very spirit which breathes within us now; the same feelings, longings, loves, desires, only, in the case of the Christlike, purified at last from all taint of sin.3 [Note: Dr. MacGregor of St. Cuthberts, 94.]

3. All that is set down in this book is thoroughly trustworthy. Autobiographies, as a rule, are not so. They are partial, prejudiced, one-sided. They must be so, for the simple reason that no living person, however saintly, dare reveal to the world all the secrets of his own heart. There have been good and worthy men who have walked on serene heights in company with Christ, and who have told us something of the story of their own victories and defeats; but no one has ever told us the whole story. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked,” and there is no one who is brave enough to draw aside the covering and reveal all that is in it. We are glad that there is not, for the story of the man who did that would not make pleasant reading. The jealousies, the spites, the uncharities, to say nothing of other and darker things, would shock and appal us. But in the book of character the record is complete. Nothing is withheld, nothing misrepresented. Everything done is set down there in naked truth, and the story in its totality is to be thoroughly relied on.

We are all writing our life-histories here, as if with one of those “manifold writers,” a black, blank page beneath the flimsy sheet on which we write; but presently the black page will be taken away, and the writing will stand out plain on the page behind, that we did not see. Life is the unsubstantial page on which our pen rests; the black page is death; and the page beneath is that indelible transcript of our earthly actions, which we shall find waiting for us to read with shame and confusion of face or with humble joy in another world.1 [Note: A. Maclaren, in Christian Endeavour World, May 12, 1910, p. 644.]

The deeds we do, the words we say,—

Into still air they seem to fleet,

We count them ever past;

But they shall last,

In the dread judgment they

And we shall meet.2 [Note: J. Keble, Lyra Innocentium.]

ii. The Book of Influence

There is another larger book on which our words and actions write themselves; for they influence not only ourselves but others. We print our thoughts, our doings, on those we live with, on thousands whom we shall never see, but whom our work has influenced. We die, but this writing of ours does not die with us. Its power for good or evil still continues. Its book still speaks to bless or curse. Even on the whole race, so closely are we bound together, something of us is written. Our book is there, in prose or poetry, in song or tale, our unconscious literature, fraught with joy or pain to men, with good or ill.

Babbage spoke of the traces spoken words leave on the physical atmosphere. There is a moral atmosphere which presses on us all, though as in the case of the physical atmosphere we feel not the pressure, and scarce take note of its existence unless when its motions are unusually violent. That atmosphere is the public opinion of the community in which we live, which is practically the law that regulates our conduct. On the wholesomeness of this atmosphere our moral health in great measure depends. But it too responds obediently to every impulse communicated to it by those who live in it. Public opinion is, in short, nothing but the aggregate representation of the moral sentiments of each individual of the community; and plainly each change in the moral condition of any individual affects that of the community; in an infinitely small degree, no doubt, but the great changes in nature are the results of the accumulation of movements each infinitesimally small. Yet, however small the direct effect of the action of one individual on the whole community, it might be large enough in his own immediate neighbourhood. Poisonous miasma which might have no perceptible effect when diffused through the whole atmosphere might be enough to make a whole house uninhabitable.

Science has been showing us of late something of the force residing in the actinic rays of light, by which it transfers impressions from one object to another. Wherever light goes, it carries and leaves images. The trees mirror one another, and opposing mountains wear each the likeness of the other upon their rocky breasts. These fine properties in nature suggest corresponding probabilities in man. It is poor logic to accept these fresh miracles of nature that are being so often revealed, and hold that we have compassed man and his possibilities. If such a process as this is going on in the dull substances without, how much more surely is it going on in the soul. All contact leaves its Mark 1 [Note: T. T. Munger, The Freedom of Faith, 353.]

The lost days of my life until to-day,

What were they, could I see them on the street

Lie as they fell? Would they be ears of wheat

Sown once for food but trodden into clay?

Or golden coins squandered and still to pay?

Or drops of blood dabbling the guilty feet?

Or such spilt water as in dreams must cheat

The undying throats of Hell, athirst alway?


I do not see them here; but after death

God knows I know the faces I shall see,

Each one a murdered self, with low last breath.

“I am thyself,—what hast thou done to me?”

“And I—and I—thyself,” (lo! each one saith,)

“And thou thyself to all eternity!”1 [Note: D. G. Rossetti.]

IV

The Book of Life

1. Judgment is tempered with mercy. In the text, as everywhere in the Book of Revelation, there is a touch of mystery, through which, as through a veil, we seem to see the form of truth. We read: “And the books were opened.” But we read further: “And another book was opened, which is the book of life.” We know that, throughout the Apocalypse, “the book of life” is that record in which God keeps the names of those who, in this world, are faithful to Jesus Christ. In it are inscribed the names of those who live the “overcoming life”—those who hold this world to be a field of battle, and who, with their deepest and truest will, are contending for the life of the Spirit. Of these, the names are in “the book of life.”

In this “book of life” God has the record of our tears. There He may read the story of our private lamentings, our shame, our sorrow, our prayers, our cries, our protests against ourselves, our final humility of soul. And it is the message and gospel of this Scripture that those very things which, for the most part, the world could not see, those things which seemed to ourselves to stop short and to avail nothing, shall be known at the last to have been the precious and decisive things, the interceding things, the things which in the sight of God have the saving power, for they are bound up with the eternal intercession of Christ’s Passion, and for Christ’s sake are accounted for righteousness.

The best account of the ideas associated with the Book of Life will be found in an article under that title in the second volume of the Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics. In that article Dr. Alfred Jeremias of Leipzig shows that the idea of heavenly books is present in the religion of Babylonia, Egypt, Persia, India, China, and Islam. In the mythology of Babylon, reference is often made to the “tables of destiny,” which probably refer to two heavenly tablets, on one of which were written the commands of the gods, on the other the records of the life of men. The idea of a reckoning kept in heaven of men’s deeds frequently occurs in the Apocryphal literature. The suggestion of such a reckoning may have come from the roll or register of citizens, such as the register of the citizens of Jerusalem referred to in Isaiah 4:3. Such a roll God Himself keeps of the names of His own people. Moses refers to it when he says, “And if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written” (Exodus 32:32). In Psalms 69:28 it is called the “book of life.” In Revelation 13:8 it becomes the Lamb’s book of life.

It is as the Lamb’s book of life that it is referred to in our text. The book contains the names of those who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. After all the books on which the works of men have been recorded are opened, the Book of Life is opened. Upon the record of the other books, what can a man hope for but condemnation? But those whose names are found in the Book of life have been purchased unto God through the precious blood of the Lamb. There is therefore now no condemnation to them.1 [Note: Expository Times, xxi. 210.]

2. The original record is written, but it is not permanent; the story is complete, but it is not ineradicable. The writing may be blotted out; the page may be recovered. The story which is spoilt may be written over again. “What I have written I have written,” said the obstinate procurator: and many a man has been inclined to take up his words and to repeat them with a meaning which they would not bear as they came from the lips of that astute Roman. “Done is done,” we hear men say, “and it can never be undone.” There is a sense, of course, in which they are right; there is another and deeper sense in which they are most certainly wrong. Done is not done in the sense that all the consequences to which we, by our sin, have exposed ourselves must inevitably come upon us. Mercy has intervened in order to prevent that. God has given His best that the deepest and darkest penalties to which sin has exposed us may not come upon us. Through His gift its consequences may be diverted, and the sin itself may be put away.

You know the incident in the life of Martin Luther, how the poor monk in his cell was visited in his night visions by the Arch-enemy of souls. The Tempter brought him great rolls which he bade him read, and he saw in his dream that those contained the record of his own life, and that they were written with his own hand. And the Tempter said to him, “Is that true? Did you write it?” and the poor stricken monk had to confess it was all true, and scroll after scroll was unrolled and the same confession was perforce wrung from him. And then the evil one prepared to take his departure, having reduced the poor monk to abject misery; but at that moment there came to him as in a flash another vision, and he turned to the Tempter and said, “It is true, every word of it. But write across it all: ‘The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.’”1 [Note: Church Pulpit Year Book, 1913, p. 245.]

Almightie Judge, how shall poore wretches brook

Thy dreadfull look,

Able a heart of iron to appall,

When thou shalt call

For ev’ry man’s peculiar book?


What others mean to do, I know not well;

Yet I heare tell,

That some will turn thee to some leaves therein

So void of sinne,

That they in merit shall excell.


But I resolve, when thou shalt call for mine,

That to decline,

And thrust a Testament into thy hand:

Let that be scann’d.

There thou shalt finde my faults are thine.2 [Note: George Herbert, The Temple.]

The Opening of the Books

Literature

Alexander (W.), The Great Question, 95.

Booth (Mrs.), Popular Christianity, 144.

Brooks (P.), Twenty Sermons, 60.

Carroll (B. H.), Sermons, 396.

Fuller (T.), Selected Sermons, ii. 276.

Hutchings (W. H.), Sermon-Sketches, i. 31.

Hutton (J. A.), The Fear of Things, 94.

Jerdan (C.), Pastures of Tender Grass, 421.

Keble (J.), Sermons for the Christian Year: Advent to Christmas Eve 99.

Lambert (J. C.), Three Fishing Boats, 53.

Matheson (G.), Sidelights from Patmos, 236.

Mozley (J. B.), Sermons Parochial and Occasional, 337.

Muir (W.), “The Dead, Small and Great,” at the Judgment, 1.

Muir (W.), The Book we all Write, 1.

Munger (T. T.), The Freedom of Faith, 339.

Norton (J. N.), Milk and Honey, 9.

Pulsford (J.), Our Deathless Hope, 148.

Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vii. (1862), No. 391.

Talmage (T. de W.), Fifty Sermons, i. 388.

Thorold (A. W.), The Gospel of Work, 159.

Vaughan (J.), Sermons (Brighton Pulpit), ii. (1862), No. 371.

Christian World Pulpit, xii. 216 (H. T. Robjohns); xxxvii. 278 (H. S. Lunn); xl. 299 (H. H. Snell); lviii. 353 (C. Gore); lxxvi. 68 (J. R. Walker).

Church Pulpit Year Book, 1913, p. 243.

Churchman’s Pulpit: General Advent Season, i. 252 (R. Vaughan).

Contemporary Pulpit, 2nd Ser., i. 129 (G. Salmon).

Inquirer, Sept. 10, 1910 (S. A. Brooke).

Copyright Statement
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Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Revelation 20:12". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/revelation-20.html. 1905.

Foy E. Wallace's Commentary on the Book of Revelation

2. The dead small and great. "And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works"-- 20: 12.

These dead were the class of verse five, and of chapter 19:18. They were the "rest of the dead," the persecutors of the church, small and great--from the lowest to the highest officials of the imperial beast--all of them together stood before the tribunal of retribution. Comparison again with Isaiah's vision of the demise of the wicked lords who had exercised evil dominion over Israel in Isaiah 26:13-14 will lend force to this application of the judgment throne vision. These dead were held in contrast with the blessed of verse six, and there was no blessing for any of these dead, small and great--they stood before the throne of the great God, as culprits called to account for their crimes.

When the books were opened that contained the record of their works they were judged accordingly. In the same symbolism, the beasts of Daniel's vision, chapter 7:10, were judged by the books which were opened. These books symbolized the record of evil deeds, a book of remembrance.

But the reference to another book . . . which is the book of life symbolized the registry of the approved, which are written in heaven. The names of these dead included in the rest of the dead were not in it. The distinction was made between the books, and the book of life. The names of the dead, small and great, referred to the judgment of the evil persecutors and opposers of the church; they were judged out of those things which were written in the books--not the book. These things were the record of their own evil works.

The whole vision, of course, was figurative, and must be applied in the sense of the visions which represented the deadly struggle of the church with the persecuting powers.

Copyright Statement
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Bibliographical Information
Wallace, Foy E. "Commentary on Revelation 20:12". "Foy E. Wallace's Commentary on the Book of Revelation". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/foy/revelation-20.html. 1966.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
I saw
11; Daniel 12:2; John 5:28,29; 11:25,26; Acts 24:15; 1 Corinthians 15:21-23; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17
small
19:5
stand
Romans 14:10-12; 1 Corinthians 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10
the books
Daniel 7:10
and another
3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 21:27; Psalms 69:28; Daniel 12:1; Luke 10:20; Philippians 4:3
according
13; 2:23; 22:12; Psalms 28:4; 62:12; Proverbs 24:12,29; Ecclesiastes 12:14; Jeremiah 17:10; Jeremiah 32:19; Matthew 16:27; Romans 2:6; 2 Corinthians 5:10
Reciprocal: Genesis 3:9 - GeneralGenesis 38:25 - Discern;  Exodus 32:33 - my book;  Numbers 5:23 - write these;  Deuteronomy 29:10 - GeneralDeuteronomy 32:34 - General2 Kings 23:2 - both small and great;  2 Chronicles 15:13 - whether small;  Job 21:22 - he judgeth;  Job 34:25 - he knoweth;  Psalm 9:8 - GeneralPsalm 22:29 - all they that;  Psalm 50:6 - God;  Psalm 56:8 - are they;  Psalm 90:8 - Thou;  Psalm 115:13 - both small;  Psalm 139:16 - in thy book;  Ecclesiastes 11:9 - know;  Isaiah 26:19 - dead men;  Isaiah 59:18 - According;  Isaiah 65:6 - it is;  Jeremiah 16:6 - the great;  Ezekiel 7:3 - will judge;  Ezekiel 13:9 - neither shall they be;  Ezekiel 18:20 - righteousness;  Ezekiel 18:30 - I will;  Ezekiel 33:20 - I will;  Ezekiel 36:19 - according to their way;  Daniel 5:5 - wrote;  Daniel 7:11 - the voice;  Malachi 3:16 - a book;  Malachi 3:17 - they shall;  Matthew 12:36 - every;  Matthew 13:49 - and sever;  Matthew 20:8 - when;  Matthew 25:32 - before;  Luke 12:2 - GeneralLuke 16:2 - give;  John 5:22 - GeneralActs 26:22 - witnessing;  Romans 2:12 - in the law;  1 Corinthians 3:13 - the day;  1 Corinthians 11:26 - till;  Galatians 6:5 - GeneralEphesians 5:12 - in;  1 Peter 5:4 - appear;  Revelation 11:18 - and the time;  Revelation 13:16 - both

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on Revelation 20:12". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tsk/revelation-20.html.

Walter Scott's Commentary on Revelation

THE SPIRITUALLY DEAD BEFORE THE THRONE.

Revelation 20:12. — "And I saw the dead, the great and the small,standing before the throne" (R.V.). A new vision. The term dead here has a twofold signification. First, it refers to those who had actually died, and only such are viewed in the passage. Second, all in this judgment are spiritually dead. John sees them as raised not in a separate state. Verse 13 states facts prior to verse 12, and accounts for the dead standing before the throne. There is a resurrection of the just and of the unjust (Acts 24:15). But the resurrection of the former is special, both as to time and character. There is really no ground for the prevalent notion of a general resurrection and a general judgment.The former is negatived by the statement in verse 5 of our chapter, "The rest of the dead did not live till the thousand years had been completed." A general judgment is as destitute of divine authority as that of a common resurrection, for here the dead alone are judged, whilst in Matthew 25:1-46 and Revelation 19:1-21 the living only are in view a thousand years before.

12. — "The great and the small." This Biblical phrase, of frequent occurrence in the Old Testament, is found five times in the Apocalypse (Revelation 11:18; Revelation 13:16;Revelation 19:5; Revelation 19:18; Revelation 20:12). In the first four of these references the order of the words is reversed from that in our text: "small and great." The exception is due to the greatness and majesty of the occasion. The article before the adjectives would intimate that special classes of the great and the small are there, from all ranks of men in the Church and inthe world. The highest and most responsible, down to the least, are congregated and gathered round the throne.

12. — "Standing before the throne." How real and present the vision was to the Seer! On what do they standNot on earth, for that has disappeared. The dead are maintained before the throne of omnipotent power. The throne beheld by the grandest of the prophets (Isaiah 6:1-13) had an altar of sacrifice beside it; hence the righteous claim of the throne was met and answered by the altar. The throne in the innermost room of the tabernacle of old had blood — the witness of death — sprinkled upon it. But the throne before us is great and white, and there is neither altar nor blood. Oh, the horror, the despair, the agony of standing in one's sins, searched by the blaze of divine light! Caves, rocks, caverns, there are none in which the guilty soul may hide, for these have fled, and each sinner is now face to face with God, from Whom there is no escape and no shelter.

DIVINE RECORDS OF HUMAN HISTORY.

12. — "And books were opened, and another book was opened, which is (that) of life. And the dead were judged out of the things written in the books,according to their works." "Books were opened." Every responsible soul on earth has his life and history written above. Nothing is forgotten, nothing is too trivial, all are unerringly set down in the records of God. Infants and idiots are alone excepted. The ground of judgment is that of works, of deeds. Men are responsible for what they have done, not for what they are as born into the world. The existence of an evil nature in each one of the human race (Psalms 51:5) is not the ground of judgment, and hence infants and irresponsible persons are not contemplated, and do not come in for judgment at all. We cannot help, nor are we responsible for, the existence of the evil nature in us, but we are responsible for its activity. The root in you you cannot help, but the fruit you can, and for this provision has been made in the sacrifice of Christ. Judgment is according to "because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience" (Ephesians 5:6).

Literal books, or rolls, are, of course, out of question.Their awful signification is enough to appall the stoutest heart, and make the most hardened conscience quail. The ungodly dead shall be confronted withal they have thought, done, and said, from the moment of responsibility till its close. If judgment proceeds on the ground of works there can be but one result, one issue of the fair and impartial trial: condemnation, final and eternal. Twice it is said that the judgment is "according to their works." Memory, too, will be stirred in that awful moment, and add its solemn Amen, as the record of each one's life is read over amidst the profoundest silence and awe inspired by such a scene.

But the book of life is next opened and carefully scanned,with the result that not one name of the ungodly is found in its pages. Their names might have been written in that book, but mercy was despised, grace rejected, and now judgment and its execution must take their course. It is the book of life referred to in Revelation 13:8 and Revelation 17:8, but not that of Revelation 3:5. This latter is the book of Christian profession, true and false; the former is the record of all true believers.

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Scott, Walter. "Commentary on Revelation 20:12". "Walter Scott's Commentary on Revelation". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/sor/revelation-20.html.

E.M. Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament

Small and great. In God's eyes there are no "big I and little you," so the phrase is used only to denote that all human beings will be brought before the judgment. This conclusion also agrees with the literal statements of scripture in other passages ( 2 Corinthians 5:10). Books occurs twice in this verse and it is stated that the judgment will be rendered according to the works that are written in the books. Hence the books means God"s books of remembrance. (See Psalm 56:8; Malachi 3:16.) God does not literally need the mechanical use of books, but the words are used symbolically to impress us with the truth that none of the things we do will escape His knowledge. The other book is described as the book of life. It is referred to in the last verse as containing the names of the faithful servants of the Lord. This same thought is expressed in Revelation 21:27; Luke 10:20; Philippians 4:3. Upon the basis of this information we may conclude that the books were the records of men's actions, and the book of life contained a list of those whose conduct had caused their names to be written in this book, and whose continued good deeds had prevented their names from being blotted out ( Revelation 3:5).

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Zerr, E.M. "Commentary on Revelation 20:12". E.M. Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/znt/revelation-20.html. 1952.

Hanserd Knollys' Commentary on Revelation

Revelation 20:12

Revelation 20:12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.

The throne being placed, and the judge being set on the throne, John

saw the dead, small and great stand before God

That Isaiah, Jesus Christ, God- Prayer of Manasseh, { Acts 17:31}

And the books were opened

by these books we are to understand the bible, the holy scripture of truth, God's statute book; that Isaiah, the books of the Old and New Testament, { Romans 2:12-16}

And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life.

that Isaiah, of election unto salvation, { Philippians 4:3}

And the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.

{ 2 Corinthians 5:10} whereby is revealed the just and righteous proceedings of Jesus Christ in judgement; for the wicked shall receive their reward, according to their evil deeds; and the righteous shall receive their reward of grace, as God hath promised them, according to their good deeds, { Matthew 25:34-40} but not for them.

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Knollys, Hanserd. "Commentary on Revelation 20:12". "Hanserd Knollys' Commentary on Revelation". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hkc/revelation-20.html.

Ernst Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Revelation 20:12. And I saw the dead, the small and the great, stand before the throne, and books were opened, and another book was opened, which is(the book) of life. And the dead were judged according to that which was written in the books, according to their works.[Note: Luther omits the article before small and great in this verse, and also follows the reading which has "before God," after the throne.] The dead can only be the ungodly dead. It must alone appear singular, that here the dead are still spoken of, although they must have been raised up, before they could stand before the throne. If only the ungodly dead are meant, then there is nothing strange in the matter. For their life after the resurrection is but a life in semblance, as it was also before in Hades. Even in their bodily life they were still dead, as is intimated in the word of Christ, "Let the dead bury their dead." But it is still of much greater moment in this respect, that John had seen in Revelation 20:4, how those that slept in Jesus before the beginning of the thousand years then lived and reigned with Christ. It was impossible that he should have seen these, and such as stood with them in like circumstances, such as died in the Lord during the thousand years and in the war of Gog and Magog, as mixed up with the dead here, and should have included them all under that name. An unseasonable comparison of Matthew 25:31, sq., where we find the righteous and the wicked united in one scene of judgment, and where the due distinction was not made between the substance and the dramatic form, has here been productive of much confusion, and has led to the dead being generally viewed,[Note: Cocceius, however, took the right view: intelligi homines mortuos iu lapsibus et in praeputio carnis, qui hactenus non revixerant, coll. 5:5.] as all the dead without exception. Here also, where only the ungodly dead are the object of judgment, where the internally different are regarded as also externally distinct, we must distinguish between form and substance. The scene of judgment is of no farther importance than as forming part of the representation. In substance they have been judged already; they have been already cast into Hades (Revelation 20:13), and this pours out its whole contents into the lake of fire. Besides, to confine death only to the wicked is in perfect accordance with the style of John; comp. John 5:24, "He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death to life;" John 8:51, "Verily, verily I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death;" 1 John 3:14. It is quite characteristic of John, that he delights to take death and life in their profoundest meaning. In ch. Revelation 11:18 also of this book, the dead are the lost dead. Because the judgment here has respect only to the ungodly dead, God in Christ appears alone as judge, and not, as in the judgment that respects the righteous, surrounded by the heavenly council of the church, (comp. Revelation 20:4; Matthew 19:28).

In regard to the small and the great, comp. on ch. Revelation 11:18, Revelation 13:16. How does the splendour of the great (who are here to be pronounced with emphasis) now become pale! How completely does all the fear they awakened vanish away!— The words, "and the books were opened," is from Daniel 7:10, although there another judgment is spoken of. From the contrast with the other book, which is the book of life, the books can only be those of guilt, of condemnation, of death, as they are also in the fundamental passage. But that this should be presupposed, as a thing to be understood of itself, arises simply from the contents of the books having their character more exactly determined by the condition of the persons to whom they relate. Bengel remarks: "This will be a complete, true, impartial, universal history."

Why the book of life (comp. at ch. Revelation 3:5, Revelation 13:8, Revelation 17:8), should be opened, may be learned from Revelation 20:15; it was to shew, that they had not been written there. The positive use of this book is given in Revelation 20:4. A name cannot be both written in the books and in the book of the Lamb. For, he whose name is in the book of life, is one whose guilt has been purged away by the blood of the Lamb (comp. 1 John 1:9, here at ch. Revelation 13:8); but the books contain the record only of unforgiven sins. Bengel: "Every one is either righteous or unrighteous; he cannot be half righteous, half unrighteous. The unrighteous often do things that have a good name; but these are not on that account fruits of righteousness. The righteous, on the other hand, have their sins; but they have also their sufferings for these, and obtain through supplication the pardon of their guilt."—"The single book of life opened is opposed to the many books of works, that are also opened." The difference as to the many and the one is either to be explained on the consideration, that but few are saved, or because the book of life contains simply the names, while the books of the dead contain the long array of their evil deeds. The judgment is here, as in ch. Revelation 11:18, and the parallel passages quoted there from the Gospel of John, which declare believers to be free from the judgment (for ex. John 3:18, John 5:24) a condemnatory one.

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Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Revelation 20:12". Ernst Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/heg/revelation-20.html.

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

12.Dead’ stand—Not that they were dead and standing at the same time. Just so it is said, Matthew 11:5, “the lame walk, the deaf hear;” not that they were deaf and hearing at the same time: but the previously deaf now hear; and so the previously dead now stand. This presupposes the one universal resurrection (see Revelation 20:13) declared by the Lord’s mouth, as related by this same John in his Gospel, John 5:28-29. The dead implies the universal dead; small and great implies every individual.

Before God—True reading before the throne; identical with “the throne of glory” of the “Son of man,” in Matthew 25:31. But the received reading God would not contradict the idea that it was visibly God the Son, to whom, indeed, the office of judging is committed.

The books—The volumes both of the human and of the divine memory. These form a perfect universal human history, read by the eye of omniscience by the light of a blazing world, in the ears of the human race. Physiological facts render it probable that the human soul never truly forgets any idea once impressed upon its memory. So Byron:—

“Each fainter trace that memory holds

So darkly of departed years,

In one broad glance the soul beholds,

And all that was, at once appears.”

Besides the record-books of the facts of human histories—the universal particular biographies—there is another book. There is a “double-entry;” one of facts condemning or justifying; the other a register of the true citizens of the New Jerusalem. The record of the name in the book of life decides the case, but that record is verified and sustained by the books of memory.

Judged—Their eternal destiny decided.

Works—The deeds done in the body. For there is a truth in the doctrine that we are justified by works.

 

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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Revelation 20:12". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/revelation-20.html. 1874-1909.

The Expositor's Greek Testament

The books opened in God’s court contain the deeds of men, whose fate is determined by the evidence of these “vouchers for the book of life” (Alford); the latter volume forms as it were a register of those predestinated to eternal life (cf. Gfrörer ii. 121 f., and below on Revelation 20:15). The figure of books containing a record of man’s career was a realistic expression of Jewish belief in moral retribution, which prevailed especially in eschatological literature (e.g., Jubil. xxx.; Enoch. lxxxix.–xc.; Daniel 7:10, etc.) after the exile. “And in these days I saw the Head of days, when he had seated himself upon the throne of his glory, and the books of the living were opened before him” (Enoch xlvii. 3; cf. Driver’s Daniel, p. 86). It is obvious, from Revelation 20:15, that the resurrection is general (as Daniel 7:20; Daniel 4 Esd. 6:20, 7:32; Test. Judges 1:25; Test. Benj. 10; Apoc. Bar. 7, etc.; cf. Gfrörer, ii. 277 f.; and Charles’s Eschatology, 340 f.), in opposition to the primitive and still prevalent belief which confined it to the righteous (E. Bi. 1390). Hence the books contain not the good deeds alone of the saints (the prevalent Jewish idea, cf. Charles on En. 51:1; Malachi 3:16; Jub. xxx.; Psalms 56:8, etc.), nor bad deeds alone (Isaiah 65:6; En. lxxxi. 4; cf. En. xl. 20; Apoc. Bar. xxiv. 1) but good and bad deeds alike (as Daniel 7:10; Asc. Isa. ix. 20 f.). This again tallies with the Iranian faith (Hübschmann, 229), according to which, at the command of Ormuzd, the righteous and the wicked alike were raised for their recompense. Here the tribunal is a throne, before which the king’s subjects have to answer for their conduct; rebels are punished and the loyal get the reward of good service (cf.Revelation 22:12, etc.). ., by whom? Jewish speculation conjectured Raphael as the recording angel (En. xx. 3) or a band of angels (Slav. En. xix. 5); but the Jewish idea of the heavenly tables ( ) is omitted in the Apoc., nor is there the slightest mention of those living at the era of judgment. Did John mean that none would survive (cf.Revelation 20:5)? Or were any survivors to be taken directly to heaven at the coming of Christ, as in Paul’s primitive outlook (see on 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)?

 

 

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Bibliographical Information
Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Revelation 20:12". The Expositor's Greek Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/egt/revelation-20.html. 1897-1910.