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Does Revelation 11:18 Refer To The Judgment Of Saints Or Unbelievers? | Q&A


Question:

I have heard that the judgment seat of Christ is to judge the saints, and the Great White Throne is for the unsaved dead at a later time. But Revelation 11:18 makes it seem as though they will happen at the same time. So the question is when will they happen? at the same time, or at different times?

Answer:

This question actually refers to three distinct events at three distinct times. To see this let’s look at each one and see what is involved in each.

We also need to remember that Scripture will sometimes put distinct events together to emphasize their difference or similarity. For example, in John 5:29 the Lord mentions “the resurrection of life” and “the resurrection of judgment.” Some have taken this to mean that they occur at the same time. However, the purpose of the verse is to contrast the consequences of doing “good” and doing “evil” and so cannot be used to prove that the two events occur at the same time.

The Judgement Seat of Christ 

Two passages that speak directly of this judgment are Romans 14:10–12 and 2 Corintians 5:10. In both cases, works are being judged. In the first case the apostle is warning us not to be judgmental with regard to brothers and sisters in Christ. We will all have to give an account of our own actions. In the second passage the emphasis is on receiving and so implies reward not “punishment.” A person who is sensitive to his or her own failing may fear these admonitions. But, we must remember the character of the Lord Jesus Himself as One who is “gentle and lowly of heart” (Matt. 11:29). He is not a “hard man” (Matt. 25:24).

Some have given the example of the awards given at the end of a competition such as the podium at the Olympic Games (1 Cor. 9:24-27). But, even this example can be misapplied. First Corinthians 3:10–15 and chapter 4:1–5 give important examples and warnings or encouragement. First, it is important that we build with good material. These are words and actions which are faithful to the Word of God. Second, we must not think to judge things beforehand. We are notoriously bad at evaluating what we or others are doing for the Lord. The natural tendency is to compare what we are doing with what others are doing. The apostle emphatically warns against this. Finally, notice that, “Then each one will receive his commendation from God” (2 Cor.4:5). If we seek to judge what we or others do now we will be very surprised when we all obtain our rewards.

Everyone should be encouraged by the love of God and what He has done for us to simply fulfill that work he has prepared for us to do (Eph. 2:10). “For God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love that you showed for his sake in serving the saints, as you still do” (Heb. 6:10).

When will we receive our reward? Scripture seems to be silent on this. However, a strong hint is given in Revelation 4:1–4. This passage describes John being called up to heaven by a voice like the sound of a trumpet. This certainly suggests the “rapture” of all saints described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18. Then, in verse 4 we see the “elders” seated around the throne clothed in white garments with golden crowns on their heads. This certainly suggests that there is “no time lost” by the Lord in rewarding His saints. We must remember that the passage of time that is required by successive events in this life may not at all be like what we will experience when we are in the new resurrected condition.

The Great White Throne

Nothing could be more different from the “judgment seat of Christ” than the “Great White Throne” judgment. Here works are not judged, but people by their works. That bears repeating. Saints are never judged. Our works are evaluated and we are accordingly rewarded. Unbelievers are judged by their works. They personally receive “according to what they had done” (Rev. 20:13b).

It is clear from Revelation chapter 20 that this judgment occurs after the Millennial reign of Christ. So, the timing of this judgement is 1000 + 7 years after the judgment seat of Christ.  

The Judgement of Revelation 11:18

The verse we want to look at now is part of the judgement connected with the last of seven trumpets. The judgments of the entire tribulation period are shown in these seven trumpet calls which are described in Revelation 8:6 through Revelation 11:18.[1] 

The judgment of the seventh trumpet is described in Revelation 11:15–18. From the declaration in verse 15, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ” it is clear that we are at the end of the tribulation and introductory to the Millennium. Verse 18 reads

The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.”

Revelation 11:18

Considering what we have already looked into, the only puzzling phrase is contained in the second and third lines. We are obviously looking at the beginning of the reign of Christ and the judgments that are associated with that great event. The “time for the dead to be judged” has come, but not at this moment. This is looking on to the final judgment at the Great White Throne. It is the time because the end of man’s (and Satan’s) usurpation of the proper domain of the Creator has come to an end. Christ is to reign supreme. Consequently, the judgment is assured to come without any possibility of interruption.

There is similar language elsewhere. Luke records the Lord Jesus saying, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Lk. 10:18). But, the actual event is recorded in Revelation 12:7–9 and so occurs more than 2000 years after the Lord spoke those words. It is not uncommon for Scripture as well as human histories to put events together to show their relationship. In this case, the Lord’s words were prophetic.

The other phrase in verse 18, “rewarding your servants” is perhaps easier to see. Those who endure the tribulation faithful to the Lord are certainly rewarded. But, according to Revelation 20:4 those who were martyred during the tribulation period will also receive reward. Some even see other heavenly saints, such as ourselves, represented in the company of those who were seated on thrones “to whom the authority to judge was committed.”


Endnotes

[1] The best exposition of Revelation is given in F. W. Grant, The Numerical Bible: Hebrews to Revelation. (Neptune: Loizeaux Brothers, 1902).

By Roy Touzeau

Roy Touzeau is a regular teacher at Grace and Truth Gathering in Portland, Oregon where he has been faithfully attending since 1981. He was instrumental in founding Principles in Focus, an annual biblically focused retreat for young people. Roy and his wife Pamela have been married for forty-nine years and enjoy visiting their children and grandchildren and studying God’s creation using Roy’s eight-inch telescope.

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