Books Of The Bible
The Last Judgement
Revelation Series • Revelation 20:1-15
OLD TESTAMENT LESSON Revelation 20:1-15
Leader: Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain.
Congregation: He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and locked and sealed it over him, so that he would deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be let out for a little while.
L: Then I saw thrones, and those seated on them were given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.)
C: This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. Over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him a thousand years.
L: When the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, in order to gather them for battle; they are as numerous as the sands of the sea. They marched up over the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from heaven and consumed them.
C: And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
L: Then I saw a great white throne and the one who sat on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them.
C: And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life.
L: And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books.
C: And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and all were judged according to what they had done.
L: Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
GOSPEL Mark 13:30-33
Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. ‘But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.
The Last Judgement
The Last Judgement
Today is the eleventh sermon in a series of summer sermons based on the Book of Revelation. Why the Book of Revelation? Because it is the inspired Word of God. Why the Book of Revelation? Because its words apply to your life and mine. Why the Book of Revelation? It is sufficiently obscure, abstruse and puzzling that we need someone to guide us through this book. Why the Book of Revelation? Because it speaks clearly and authoritatively about the Last Judgment. The focus of today’s sermon is Revelation 20, the Last Judgment.
In our Lutheran circles and mainline denominations, we don’t hear many sermons and Bible classes about the Last Judgment. We do hear sermons that Christ will be our judge, that we will be judged in this life and the next, and that we are not to judge anyone because Christ is to be the judge and we are not. Yes, we have heard sermons and attended Bible classes that emphasize that Christ is our judge; but have rarely heard sermons or attended classes about the Last Judgment.
This was not true in the past. In the past, there were and many hellfire and damnation preachers such as Jonathan Edwards. In the early 1700s, Jonathan Edwards vigorously preached that people were to be afraid of the fires of hell, that it was time for such people to make a decision for Christ and against living forever in the lake of eternal fire.
Jonathan Edwards was brilliant intellectually and theologically. He was the valedictorian of his class at the new college called Yale College which became Yale University. He eventually became the president of a university that became known as Princeton University. Jonathan Edwards was the father of revivalism and the Great Awakening in America and had as much influence on America as Benjamin Franklin.
Jonathan Edwards’s most famous sermon was, SINNERS IN THE HANDS OF AN ANGRY GOD. The following words from his sermon are characteristic of his preaching. From that famous sermon, listen to his actual words and feel how the flames of fire are licking at your feet. Listen as if you were in the front pew and Jonathan Edwards was towering above you in the pulpit and wearing his black preaching robe. As a preacher, I will attempt to get into the flow and mood of his sermon.
“The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked. His wrath towards you burns like fire. He looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire. You are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince (the devil). Yet it is nothing but God’s hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment.”
So how did you feel about the paragraph? Have you ever heard such words before? But that was a common staple of preaching in the seventeen hundreds here in America.
Yes, there have been thousands upon thousands of firey “hell stone and damnation” sermons given in the past where it was preached that God holds people over a pit of fire like a loathsome spider over the fire. But I suspect that you haven’t heard a sermon like that for a long long time, if ever.
But today, people still preach firey “hell and damnation” sermons. Yes, there are still fire and hell stone sermons today. For example, in preparation for this sermon, I used the Google search engine, typed in Revelation 20, and found a website of sermons by a person by the name of Donny Martin. One sermon was entitled THE HORRORS OF HELL. He didn’t say it but he wanted his parishioners to experience the fires of hell. My wife told me not to share the following story, especially with children in our worship services, so I remind you that the following story is a made-up story for a sermon illustration.
In his sermon, Donny Martin told the story of a young fourteen year old girl who was convicted in her church during a sermon and she wanted to go forward for an altar call, but she wouldn’t. Her parents sensed that she wanted to go forward to this altar call in order to give her heart to Jesus. But she wouldn’t. On the way home from church, there was a car accident and that young girl was trapped in the car. Her parents miraculously got out of the wrecked car. A stranger came up to that wrecked car but didn’t see a trail of gas towards the car. He flicked his cigarette butt and suddenly the wrecked car was a blazing ball of fire with the young fourteen year old daughter trapped in it. The daughter’s screams finally subsided and she pleaded from the burning car, “Daddy, Mommy, please help me.” I quote from the sermon: “Remembering her daughter’s conviction in the service earlier that night, the mother did the only thing she knew to do with whatever time her child had left; she begged her to give her heart to Christ. The girl was quiet for a moment, and then through the flames she cried out to her mother, and said, “Momma, I want to trust Jesus. But I can’t. It’s too late. It’s too late.” In another moment, all was quiet except for the crackle of the fire. Hell had claimed its victim.” (italics mine).
Have you ever heard a sermon like that? Yuk.
In the past centuries like during the times of Jonathan Edwards and even nowadays on the Internet, we still hear sermons about the Last Judgment and the fires of hell.
But…but…but…you may have never heard a sermon based on the Last Judgment in the Book of Revelation. Why? One reason is that Revelation 20 is not to be found in our lectionary system of reading Scriptures. All mainline denominations throughout the world follow this lectionary system and Revelation 20 is not found in this world-wide lectionary system.
Another reason that you may not have heard a sermon on the Last Judgment is that I have been a pastor at this congregation for thirty years and I have not preached one sermon about the Last Judgment based on Revelation 20. The point is: I am 64 years old, have been a Lutheran pastor for 36 years and have never preached a sermon on the Last Judgment. I think it is about time. Today is the day.
I begin this sermon by asking you a personal question about the Last Judgment: What images come to your mind as you think about the Last Judgment? What do you sense in your heart about the Last Judgment? What are your feelings and beliefs about the Last Judgment? What are your mental images? Your beliefs? Your gut feelings about the Last Judgment? This is an honesty check: what are your gut beliefs about the Last Judgment? Will you face a final judgment? Will you face a final separation? What will it be like? What will happen to you? Is all of this a myth? Is this all a “make believe story” that needs to be de-emphasized by neglect? Is this story merely a fabrication to scare people into believing in Christ?
What are some of your answers to the previous questions? Many of us sense in our hearts and believe that: “Yes,” there will be a day of reckoning for all human beings at the end of time.
“Yes,” God will judge, that Christ will be with him to judge.
“Yes,” we will be judged based on what we have done and not done.
“Yes,” there will be mercy and grace.
“Yes,” we will all plead for mercy and grace because we sense in our hearts that we could never deserve or merit eternal life based on what we have done and haven’t done.
“Yes,” only God is to be the judge, in this life and at the Last Judgment. We all have our roles in life and God’s role is to judge. That is not our role.
“Yes,” we sense that God’s judgments will be fair, just and merciful in the Last Judgment.
We may also recall that the Last Judgment is part of our Apostle’s Creed. Many Christians say the Apostle’s Creed every Sunday morning in our worship services. The Apostle’s Creed, which was written and recited within the first century after Christ, is the oldest confession creed in the church. The key line in our Apostle’s Creed is: “He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.”
In our basic creed, our first creed, our fundamental creed that has been recited since the dawn of Christianity at baptisms we hear that “Christ as ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from whence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.” We hear that Christ will come again to judge all people, both living and dead. This teaching is basic to our Christian faith and the Bible. It is our oldest creed.
Even more important than the Creed is the Bible. What are some important Bible verses in the New Testament that help us understand the Last Judgment? Let us briefly examine the important Bible verses in the New Testament that talk about the Last Judgment.
A basic thesis of this sermon is that the teachings of Revelation 20 about the Last Judgment need to be consistent with other similar teachings in the New Testament. It is important to let “the Bible interpret the Bible.”
We will find that the images of hell as fire are found primarily in the Gospel of Matthew and Book of Revelation. In John, Paul and Luke, there will be no images of hell as fire but there will a final judgment.
In John, hell is darkness.
In Paul, hell is judgment.
All the Biblical authors foresee a final judgment, but the image of that final judgment varies.
In the Bible, hell is a place of separation from God but also a place of torment.
Also, we live with apparent contradictions within the Bible. That is, we know that when we die, we are immediately in paradise with Jesus. Jesus said to the thief on the cross: “Today you will be with me in paradise.” At the same time, we also know that all people on earth will face the Final Judgment. We don’t try to reconcile these apparent contradictions from the Bible, but we just live with them. When we die, we are immediately in paradise with God; at the end of time, there will be a last judgment.
Many Christians believe that there will be no Last Judgment for true believers, that we face judgment in this life but not at the end of life. The Gospel of John teaches that: we will not come under judgment but will pass from death to life here during our lives here on this earth.
(The highlighted yellow are for a power point presentation during the sermon).
Important Bible Verses: The Last Judgement
Notice that the Gospel of John does not have fire associated with the final judgment. Rather, the final judgment is that people will live in darkness. All the Biblical authors have different words or language or metaphors to describe the Last Judgment.
Six of the eight of the passages in Matthew about the Last Judgment are associated with fire. Both the Book of Revelation and the Gospel of Matthew emphasize the Final Judgment as fire, a lake of fire, a firey furnace. We find two Biblical references to hell as fire in the Gospel of Luke and three Biblical reference to hell as fire in the Gospel of Mark. We can understand how “hell and damnation” preachers would emphasize the fires of hell and the lake of fire as eternal damnation; that hell is not only separation from God but also physical and emotional torment forever.
24Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.25‘Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself; 27andhe (God) has given him (Christ) authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.28Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29and will come out—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. 30‘I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me.
In the above passage, there are many things to ponder. Please notice that there is a final separation between those who have done good into eternal life and those who have done evil into eternal condemnation.
In your minds, circle the words, “my judgment is just,” and we remember that Christ’s judgment is fair.
Matthew 3:11-12/Luke 3:9/Q
He (Jesus) will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’ (Luke: “cut down and thrown into the fire.”
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.” 22But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool,” you will be liable to the hell of fire.
36I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter;37for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.’
40Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 51‘Have you understood all this?’ They answered, ‘Yes.’
Matthew 18:8-9/Mark 9:46-48
‘If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than to have two hands or two feet and to be thrown into the eternal fire. 9And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into the hell of fire.(Mark 9:46, Go to hell, to theunquenchable fire…into hell, where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.)
Matthew 25: 8-12
The foolish maidens said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” 9But the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.” 10And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut.” Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.”
31 ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from thegoats,33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
…..Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; …Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’
‘There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham.* The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.*24He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.” … Lazarus said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.”
It is surprising to many people to read the following words about the Last Judgment by the Apostle Paul. This was Paul’s last letter when he was near the end of his life. The Book of Romans is perhaps Paul’s most mature theological writing. We remember that Paul was the Apostle of grace, that he preached that all people have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and that all people are saved by God’s pure gift. The Apostle Paul, knowing that we are saved by grace, also writes in Romans 2 that at the Last Judgment, people will be rewarded by their deeds.
But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. 6For he will repay according to each one’s deeds: 7to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury.9There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11For God shows no partiality. 12All who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13For it isnot the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified.
I have shared an insight with you before. Imagine a rock that has baked in the hot sun all day long and has been become very hot, even to touch. That hot rock will not fail to give off heat in the cool of the night. So also, a person who has faith in Christ will not fail to give off love. People of faith inevitably radiate the love of God. Faith and works/actions of love are two sides of the same coin.
In the following passages from Revelation 20, we find the only Scripture in the whole Bible that describes the Last Judgment. We see the separation between those whose names were written in the Book of Life and those who will spend an eternity in the flames of fire.
And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
Then I saw a great white throne and the one who sat on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. 12And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books. 13And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and all were judged according to what they had done. 14Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; 15and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
The image of hell as fire is primarily found in the books of Matthew and Revelation.
As we conclude this sermon, I again ask you a personal question: Will you face final judgment? How is God speaking to you today? What does the Last Judgment mean for you and your life
We will now take a few moments and examine a power point presentation about artist’s perceptions about the Last Judgment. (The preacher needs to carefully examine the contents of each painting and highlight those observations with the congregation. The paintings will then become even more alive.)
The Last Judgement
THE LAST JUDGMENT
DETAIL OF THE DAMNED; PURE ISOLATION AND REGRET
THE GREAT WHITE THRONE
PATRICIA MARVENKO SMITH
NAMES IN THE BOOK OF LIFE
PATRICIA MARVENKO SMITH
THE LAKE OF FIRE
THE BEAST AND THE WHORE BURNING
PATRICIA MARVENKO SMITH
THE LAKE OF FIRE
The lake of fire (REV. 20:14-15)
PATRICIA MARVENKO SMITH
So God, Christ, the New Testament authors, and great artists of the New Testament are clear and consistent: there will be a last judgment, that Christ will be the judge, that Christ’s judgments will be fair, that people will be judged on what they have and haven’t done, that Christ’s judgments will be merciful, that some people will face the consequences of damnation and others will have their names written into the Book of life and live forever with God.
As a footnote, I would like to mention the “millennium.” The concept of the millennium is taught in the Book of Revelation, chapter 20. Seven times in Revelation 20, we hear about the millennium where Christ is to rule for one thousand years and the devil is to be locked up for one thousand years.
There are three positions about the millennium. There are the pre-millenialists who believe that Christ will return BEFORE the millennium. There the post-millenialists who believe that Christ will return AFTER the thousand year reign. There are the a-millenialists (me) who do not think that the millennium is important in the Bible. There is only one single reference to the millennium in the whole Bible and that is Revelation 20.
Since the thousand year reign of Christ occurs only in Revelation 20, it is not important to Biblical truth and we will skip it. The millennium was not have been important to the Biblical writers nor does it need to be important to us. This ends the footnote.
Next week: Sermon number twelve. The New Heaven and New Earth and New Jerusalem. Amen.
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