The work of judgment by the saints in heaven during the thousand years is a precurser to the final executive judgment that takes place “when the thousand years are over.”

And I saw a great white throne and Him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God; and 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 the sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every man according to their works. And Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whoever was not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:11-15).

During the thousand years the saved will be satisfied that God’s judgments have been an expression of both justice and love. But “the dead” who have just been raised in the second resurrection will stand before the “great white throne.” The “books” will be “opened” and they will come face to face with “the things which were written in the books”. How this will happen technically with billions of people all at once is not made clear—perhaps it will be something like the experience people have when they almost die, and the events of their life “pass before their eyes” in a moment of time. At any rate, after seeing the facts concerning their lives, those who could not be saved will have to admit that God has been more than fair and His judgment of them is just. “We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” (Romans 14:10, Philippians 2:10,11).

Those whose names are not “found written in the Book of Life” will be “cast into the lake of fire.” This brings up one of the most misunderstood concepts in the Bible: the doctrine of hell and the second death. Some have felt that God’s nature of love excludes the possibility of His destroying anyone, and that the many references such as this one are either metaphorical or threats designed to encourage good behavior.

In recent years many have believed that hell is simply eternal separation from God, and the fire and torment that are mentioned represent the mental agony of those who will not be in His presence. Others have persisted in the more traditional view that the fires of hell are literal, and that the “immortal souls” of those who do not repent will be subject to fiery torment of some kind for all eternity. The medieval church depicted this suffering in graphic detail, with writers such as Dante and artists like Hieronymus Bosch creating an explicit and terrifying prospect for those who would dare to refuse God’s love and mercy.

This passage clearly teaches that not everyone will be found written in “the Book of Life.” These unfortunates will be “cast into the lake of fire” which is called the “second death.”[1] Jesus referred to both the first and the second death in Matthew 10:28: “Do not fear those who kill the body [the first death] but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” The destruction of both body and soul is what is referred to in Revelation as the second death, and hell (gehenna)[2] is the “lake of fire.” Some have taught that Jesus’ words refer to the time of death, but the first death of the body clearly cannot be a time when both soul and body would be destroyed in hell, since the bodies (and souls) of the wicked are resurrected at the end of the thousand years.

It is clear from this verse that the soul in hell suffers the same fate as the body in hell (God will “destroy both soul and body in hell”). Does the body go on living, perhaps separated from God for eternity? Obviously not: “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts, that will leave them neither root nor branch…You shall trample the wicked, for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet” (Malachi 4:1,3). The fate of the body is total annihilation, and according to Jesus, that which happens to the body also happens to the soul.

This is clearly taught in Ezekiel 18:4: “Behold, all souls are Mine, the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins shall die.” Some have argued that “soul” in the Old Testament has a different meaning than in the New Testament, but James confirms Ezekiel’s words, “He who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death” (James 5:20). Peter taught the same thing, quoting Moses, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren [Jesus]. Him you shall hear in all things, whatever He says to you. And it shall be that every soul who will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people” (Acts 3:22,23). Souls are not immortal; they can die, and soul death is what is meant by the second death.[3]

Continue to next section: WHAT IS A SOUL?

[1] See also Revelation 2:11, 20:6, 21:8

[2] “The word derives its meaning from the Hebrew ge-hinnom (the valley of Hinnom) which was a pit into which refuse was dumped, a site which had long been contemptuously regarded in the Hebrew mind, as when Josiah dumped the filth of Jerusalem (II Kings 23:10) to be burned, and in which the bodies of executed criminals were tossed”. Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, (Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan Pubishing, 1973) Use by permission of Zondervan

[3] This is taught in one of the most well-known texts of the Bible, John 3:16, “Whoever believes in [God’s only begotten Son] shall not perish.” This shows that whoever does not believe will perish.