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.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(12, 13) And I saw the dead, small and great . . .—Or rather, And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before (not “God,” as in text, but) the throne, and books (or, rolls) were opened; and another book (or, roll) was opened, which is (the book) of life; and the dead were judged out of the things which had been written in the books (or, rolls) according to their works. And the sea gave forth the dead that were in it; and death and Hades gave forth the dead who were in them; and they were judged each according to their works. The latter of these verses is added to assure us that the dead, in whatever quarter, must appear before the judgment throne. Death and Hades—“the grave world,” and “the great watery grave”—the sea, “the universal hidden region of the dead,” give up its prey; for there is One who sits upon the throne who has the keys of death and Hades (Revelation 1:18). It has been said by some that the dead here spoken of as coming forth from the grave are not all the dead, but only “the rest of the dead” mentioned in Revelation 20:5. Those who believe that the first resurrection there mentioned is a literal physical resurrection are compelled to limit the resurrection here to the resurrection only of the remainder of the dead. But the verses before us suggest no limitation, and the language most assuredly tends to the idea that saints and faithful servants of God take part in this later resurrection. If all the saints and righteous men of old are raised prior to the millennium, and take no part in this last judgment scene, then only the faithless and wicked are left to be judged before the great white throne, and as none of these can be found written in the book of life, the bringing forth of that book becomes meaningless. This is one result of vicious literalism of interpretations. 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 (Matthew 10:26; comp. 1Corinthians 4:5). 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 workbook 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. (Comp. Galatians 2:20; 1Corinthians 15:10; James 2:14-26.)

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.

20:11-15 After the events just foretold, the end will speedily come; and there is no mention of any thing else, before the appearing of Christ to judge the world. This will be the great day: the Judge, the Lord Jesus Christ, will then put on majesty and terror. The persons to be judged are the dead, small and great; young and old, low and high, poor and rich. None are so mean, but they have some talents to account for; and none so great, as to avoid having to account for them. Not only those alive at the coming of Christ, but all the dead. There is a book of remembrance both for good and bad: and the book of the sinner's conscience, though formerly secret, will then be opened. Every man will recollect all his past actions, though he had long forgotten many of them. Another book shall be opened, the book of the Scriptures, the rule of life; it represents the Lord's knowledge of his people, and his declaring their repentance, faith, and good works; showing the blessings of the new covenant. By their works men shall be justified or condemned; he will try their principles by their practices. Those justified and acquitted by the gospel, shall be justified and acquitted by the Judge, and shall enter into eternal life, having nothing more to fear from death, or hell, or wicked men; for these are all destroyed together. This is the second death; it is the final separation of sinners from God. Let it be our great concern to see whether our Bibles justify or condemn us now; for Christ will judge the secrets of all men according to the gospel. Who shall dwell with devouring flames?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.

12. 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, Joh 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," &c. Ro 14:10; 2Co 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 Mt 25:31, 32, 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, Re 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—(Da 7:10). The books of God's remembrance, alike of the evil and the good (Ps 56:8; 139:4; Mal 3:16): conscience (Ro 2:15, 16), the word of Christ (Joh 12:48), the law (Ga 3:10), God's eternal counsel (Ps 139:16).

book of life—(Re 3:5; 13:8; 21:27; Ex 32:32, 33; Ps 69:28; Da 12:1; Php 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 (Re 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.

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.

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 Jews (h), who say,

"in the world of souls, , "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 Jews (i), that

"at the beginning of the year (or every new year's day) , "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 treatise (k), 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, "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 say (l),

"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.''

(h) Tzeror Hammor, fol. 154. 2.((i) T. Bab. Roshhashanah, fol. 16. 21. (k) T. Bab. Roshhashanah, fol. 32. 2. & Erachin, fol. 10. 2.((l) Zohar in Gen. fol. 118. 3.

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; 2Co 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.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
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.; Psalm 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.). γεγραμμ., 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 (πλάκες τοῦ οὐρανοῦ) 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)?

12. small and great] Read the great and the small. The sense, as in Revelation 19:5, is probably to indicate the nothingness of human distinctions before God. Those who are “great in the Kingdom of Heaven” have been raised already, Revelation 20:4-5.

before God] Read, before the throne. This verse therefore does not absolutely prove Who it is that sits on the throne, but shews how it was understood by the Church, in which the common text grew up and was received.

the books were opened] Rather, simply books: see Daniel 7:13, where also the article (or equivalent form) is wanting.

and another book was opened] The salvation of those who are saved is not due to their own works, but to God’s electing love, which (however we punctuate Revelation 13:8) preceded any work of theirs. Yet reference to their works is not ignored, but the “books would be as it were vouchers for the book of life.” (Alford); shewing that those written in that book had lived as became the grace given to them.

the book of life] See Revelation 3:5, Revelation 13:8, Revelation 21:27 : also note on Revelation 5:1. The image is used exactly in this sense in Daniel 12:1, though the phrase “Book of Life” is not used. We have a near approach to that in Psalm 69:28, but there and in Exodus 32:32-33 it is not equally certain that eternal life is meant. Words and meaning are exactly the same in this book as in Php 4:3.

the dead were judged &c.] We see then that “the books” contained the record of “their works.” Thus this passage justifies, in some measure, the modern popular myth of “the recording Angel.”

according to their works] St Matthew 16:27; Romans 2:6.

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

[222] κατὰ τὰ ἔργα αὐτῶν, according to their works) There is nothing which will not then be brought to light. Let your works be good and not evil.—V. g.

Verse 12. - And I saw (see on ver. 11) the dead, small and great, stand before God; the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne. All the dead, good and bad, as in Matthew 25:31-33. This is the general resurrection; what St. John might have called the second resurrection, with regard to the godly, who have once before risen to a life with Christ (see on ver. 5). Now, those who would not voluntarily share in the first resurrection are compelled to share in the second. And the books were opened. Omit the article (cf. the description in Daniel 7:10). And another book was opened, which is the book of life. This book has been frequently referred to (Revelation 3:5; Revelation 13:8; Revelation 17:8). The idea is not uncommon throughout the Bible (cf. Psalm 69:28; Daniel 12:1; Luke 10:20). And the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. Both the godly and the ungodly. "The books" show fully why certain names are selected and inscribed in the "book of life." Here is enforced again the lesson with which the Apocalypse opens in the epistles to the seven Churches, viz. that the reward will follow according to the works (cf. Revelation 2:5; Revelation 3:15, etc.). Revelation 20:12Before God

Read θρόνου throne for Θεοῦ God. So 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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