Revelation 20:12a: And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened.
The great white throne judgment fascinates people. It is the final act before the righteous enter eternal glory, and the wicked enter eternal torment. When is it? Who is judged there? Where do they go? Gill’s chain of events, after Armageddon, is as follows:
- Satan is bound in the bottomless pit for a thousand years (Rev 20:2–3).
- The saints rise in glorified bodies to live a thousand years (Rev 20:4).
- The earth is purged of sin by fire in the conflagration (2 Pet 3:10).
- After a thousand years, Satan is loosed and the wicked resurrected (Rev 20:5, 8).
- The wicked march to Jerusalem to make war on Christ and his saints (Rev 20:9a).
- Fire from heaven consumes them (Rev 20:9b).
- Satan is thrown into the lake of fire (Rev 20:10).
- Then, the wicked are judged at the great white throne judgment (Rev 20:11–15).
When is the Great White Throne Judgment?
For Gill, the great white throne judgment occurs once Satan has been cast into the lake of fire where the beast and false prophet are. He states:
[I]t is best to understand it of the general judgment at the last day, which is the common sense of ancient and modern intepreters; though it seems only to regard the judgment of the wicked, for not other are made mention of in it.John Gill, comments on Revelation 20:11
This chronological placement is without much controversy.
Will the Saints be Judged There?
The question which confuses many Christians is, “Will the saints be judged at the great white throne judgement?” After all, Paul said, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor 5:10).
Gill’s position is the saints will be present at the great white throne, but they will not be judged there. Let Gill explain.
First, the saints will be judged upon their resurrection at the beginning of the thousand years. Gill remarks:
[A]s for the righteous, they’ll 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 possess a thousand years when these wicked dead will be raised.John Gill, comments on Revelation 20:12
Second, only the wicked are judged at the great white throne. Gill is straightforward about this:
[T]hese are the rest of the dead, the wicked, who lived not until the thousand years were ended, ver. 5.John Gill, comments on Revelation 20:12
These wicked will be cross-checked against the book of life. They then will be judged appropriately according to their wicked deeds.
Third, the saints will be present and participate in the judgment. Gill cites two passages to demonstrate the saints’ presence. First, Paul told the Corinthians, “Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world?” (1 Cor 6:2). Second, Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 25:31–46 that he would separate the sheep from the goats. Gill takes this as a separation within the ranks of those who profess Christ; that is, the true saints (sheep) will be separated from those who made false professions of faith (goats). The goats will be lumped with the general population of the wicked to receive their eternal sentencing. Meanwhile, the saints will watch and (Paul says) participate in the great judgment.
This scene, to the wicked, will add to their awful agonies.
Where Will The Wicked Go?
The wicked go to the “lake of fire” (Rev 20:15). To be fair, Gill focuses more on the miseries of eternal separation from God than on literal burning in the hellfire. He states:
[T]his is the second death; or the destruction of the soul and body in hell, which will consist in an eternal separation of both from God, and in a continual sense of his wrath and displeasure.John Gill, comments on Revelation 20:14
Yet, added to this, there will be (infinite and physical) punishment commensurate with their crimes. Gill expands upon it in his systematic theology textbook:
It is a question moved, Whether the fire of hell is a material fire? . . . it seems to be sometimes taken in a proper sense, since it has those things ascribed to it which belong to fire properly so called, as smoke, flame, heat, etc. . . . And there are such things in nature which [burn but] are not consumed by fire; as a sort of flax, and cloth made of it, cleansed by burning it; and a precious stone, set on fire, which is not to be quenched.John Gill, “Of the Final State of the Wicked in Hell,” in A Body of Doctrinal Divinity
Again, Gill always emphasizes the miseries of the soul filled with God’s wrath over the flesh filled with flames in utter darkness (Jude 13).
Gill stays fairly tight and consistent in his chronology. Amills, postmills, and some premills will disagree with his sequence, of course. Yet, he would disagree with theirs, too! Let me point to one mildly troublesome point.
A question arises. In Revelation 20:12, the dead stand before the throne and are judged. In Revelation 20:13, the text states the sea, the grave, and death “gave up the dead.” This seems out of order. How can they stand before the judgment throne if they are still in the sea or the grave?
For Gill, the issue is compounded. He already has stated the wicked rose bodily at the end of the thousand years to make war on Jerusalem. He briefly touches on it in his commentary:
[T]he sea shall deliver them up: now this, and what is expressed in the next clause, will not be done after the judgment is set, the books are opened, and the sentence passed, but before all this, and in order to it.John Gill, comments on Revelation 20:13
Obviously, he takes verse 13 as explaining events which occurred before the great white throne judgment. Conceivably, he could place those events even further back; namely, when Satan is loosed. This works, chronologically, but these types of questions are what leave others still questioning if this is so.