Saturday, January 20, 2024

The Final Judgment (20.11–15)


And I saw an august white throne and the one sitting on it. The earth and heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing in front of the throne, and scrolls were opened. And another scroll was opened, which is the one of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, which were written in the scrolls. And the sea gave the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades gave the dead who were in them, and they were judged according to their works. And Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone was not found written in the scroll of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.


Debates regarding how to incorporate the Revelation into a systematic Christian eschatology often fixate on two points. First, whether Jesus returns to the earth before the thousand years from chapter 20 (a view called premillennialism), or whether he returns only after, in time to sit down to execute the final judgment (postmillennialism). Second, whether the thousand years are a precisely literal ten centuries of Jesus ruling from Jerusalem on the earth (called millennialism, millenarianism, or chiliasm), or whether the thousand years are a symbol for ‘the church age’, regardless of how short or long its duration may be, with Jesus ruling from heaven (amillennialism or non-chiliasm). Depending on the interpreter’s position, chapters 19 and 20 are a single vision which will be fulfilled in the chronological sequence as it reads (premillennialism), or chapter 20 is a separate vision from chapter 19, such that the two chapters are not sequential and the unveiling of the Anointed One in chapter 19 takes place after the thousand years in chapter 20 (postmillennialism, usually overlapping with amillennialism).

Ancient rabbinic debates on the topic of the kingdom of the Anointed One reveal a variety of expectations for how long the Anointed One would rule: a few decades, a few centuries, or even a few thousand years. In all cases, the Anointed One is expected to be unveiled to the world and rule from Jerusalem on the earth. The most immediate parallels to this book are found in 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch. Though each of these three apocalypses has a few unique elements, the outline of their eschatological expectations—the unveiling of the Anointed One, his conquest of the gentile world empire and its ruler, the establishment and longevity of his kingdom, and the eventual resurrection of all the dead for a final judgment at the end of history—are extremely similar. The concept that the Anointed One would only arrive on the earth after the conclusion of his own messianic kingdom would likely have been unintelligible to the author.

Chapters 19 and 20 should be read as chronologically sequential. The Anointed One is revealed from heaven to wage his holy war on the Roman Empire, resulting in the defeat of Nero Redux and all his forces. The satan is imprisoned for the duration of the kingdom of the Anointed One, which endures for a full thousand years over the earth. The righteous elite, martyred by the Roman Empire for refusing to participate in the imperial cult, receive the unique fate of being resurrected prior to the rest of humanity, ruling alongside the Anointed One. At the conclusion of the thousand years the satan attempts to lead the gentile world in a final attack on the holy community, but God intervenes, destroying their enemies and subjecting the satan to eternal torture in the lake of fire. God raises all the dead and passes his final judgment, punishing sinners and rewarding the righteous. The process results in the traditional form of death—depicted in the personified Death and Hades—itself being destroyed.

This passage describes the punishment of sinners in the final judgment as the same fate suffered by the satan, Nero Redux, and those who supported the empire in its idolatry and its persecution of the holy community. In the synoptic gospels and parabiblical texts, the role of this lake of fire is given to a place called Ge-Hinnom (or Gehenna), meaning ‘Valley of Hinnom’, the name of a valley outside Jerusalem which came to be associated with divine judgment and afterlife punishment. In most other texts, the ‘second death’ referred to the sinner being wiped from existence, but this book instead applies the epithet to the eternal torture of sinners in the lake of fire.



28.4 Repay them according to their work, and according to the evil of their deeds; repay them according to the work of their hands; render them their due reward.

62.12 For you repay to all according to their work.

114.3–7 The sea looked and fled; Jordan turned back. The mountains skipped like rams, the hills like lambs. Why is it, O sea, that you flee? O Jordan, that you turn back? O mountains, that you skip like rams? O hills, like lambs? Tremble, O earth, at the presence of Yhwh.


4.9 I will punish them for their ways, and repay them for their deeds.


59.18 According to their deeds, so will he repay


25.14 For many nations and great kings shall make slaves of them also; and I will repay them according to their deeds and the work of their hands.


24.12 And will he not repay all according to their works?

1 Enoch

45.3–4 On that day, my Chosen One will sit on the throne of glory, and he will test their works, and their dwelling place will be innumerable. And their souls will be distressed within them, when they see my chosen ones, and those who appeal to my glorious name. On that day, I shall make my Chosen One dwell among them

47.3 In those days I saw the Head of Days as he took his seat on the throne of his glory, and the books of the living were opened in his presence, and all his host, which was in the heights of heaven, and his court, were standing in his presence.

51.1 In those days, the earth will give back what has been entrusted to it, and Sheol will give back what has been entrusted to it, and destruction will restore what it owes.

90.20, 26–27 And I saw until a throne was constructed in the pleasant land and the Lord of the sheep sat upon it, and he took all the sealed books and opened those books before the Lord of the sheep. […] And I saw that that time that an abyss was opened in the middle of the earth, which was full of fire. And they brought those blinded sheep, and they were all judged and found to be sinners. And they were thrown into that fiery abyss, and they burned. And that abyss was the south of that house. And I saw those sheep burning and their bones burning.

Joseph & Asenath

15.4 For behold, your name was written in the scroll of the living in heaven.

Sibylline Oracles

1.83–84 Therefore all men who are born on earth are said to go to the house of Hades.

2.215–220, 227–230 Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel, who know what evils anyone did previously, lead all the souls of men from the murky dark to judgment, to the tribunal of the great immortal God. For one alone is imperishable, the universal ruler, himself, who will be judge of mortals. [...] Then Uriel, the great angel, will break the gigantic bolts, of unyielding and unbreakable steel, of the gates of Hades, not forged with metal; he will throw them wide open and will lead all the mournful forms to judgment

2.238–240 When Sabaoth Adonai, who thunders on high, dissolves fate and raises the dead, and takes his seat on a heavenly throne

2.291–292, 302–303 they will be thrown under many terrible infernal beasts in Gehenna, where there is immeasurable darkness. […] in distress they will shout at length below dark, dank Tartarus.

3.675–679 The all-bearing earth will be shaken in those days by the hand of the Immortal, and the fish in the sea and all the wild beasts of the earth and innumerable tribes of birds, all the souls of men and all the sea will shudder before the face of the Immortal and there will be terror.


7.9–10 an Ancient of Days took his throne […] and the books were opened.

12.1–3 But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the scroll. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.

Ascension of Isaiah

4.18 and the Beloved will cause fire to rise from him, and it will consume all the impious, and they will become as if they had not been created.

Revelation of Zephaniah

9.2 ‘You will now cross over the crossing place. For your name is written in the scroll of the living.’

10.3–4 I saw the sea which I had seen at the bottom of Hades. Its waves came up with the clouds. I saw all the souls sinking in it. I saw some whose hands were bound to their neck, with their hands and feet being fettered.

Psalms of Solomon

2.34–35 to separate between righteous and sinner, to repay the sinners forever according to their works and to have pity on the righteous, from the humiliation of the sinner, and to repay the sinner for what he has done to the righteous.

Testament of Moses

10.3 For the Heavenly One will arise from his kingly throne. Yea, he will go forth from his holy habitation with indignation and wrath on behalf of his sons.

1 Corinthians

15.24–25 Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

2 Corinthians

5.10 For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of the Anointed One, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.


2.6–8 For he will repay according to each one’s works: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury.

Revelation of Abraham

31.1–3 And then I will sound the trumpet out of the air, and I will send my chosen one, having in him one measure of all my power, and he will summon my people, humiliated by the heathen. And I will burn with fire those who mocked them and ruler over them in this age and I will deliver those who have covered me with mockery over to the scorn of the coming age. Because I have prepared them to be food for the fire of Hades, and to be ceaseless soaring in the air of the underworld regions of the uttermost depths, to be the contents of a wormy belly.

Testament of Abraham

12.4–13.2 And between the two gates there stood a terrifying throne with the appearance of terrifying crystal, flashing like fire. And upon it sat a wondrous man, bright as the sun, like unto a son of God. […] And the wondrous man who sat on the throne was the one who judged and sentenced the souls. […] ‘This is the son of Adam, the first-formed, who is called Abel […] And he sits here to judge the entire creation, examining both righteous and sinners.’


16.27 ‘For the son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done.’

1 Peter

1.17 If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their works

4 Ezra

6.20 the scrolls shall be opened before the face of the firmament, and all shall see my judgement together.

7.32–36 The earth shall give up those who are asleep in it, and the dust those who rest there in silence; and the chambers shall give up the souls that have been committed to them. The Most High shall be revealed on the seat of judgement, and compassion shall pass away, and patience shall be withdrawn. Only judgement shall remain, truth shall stand, and faithfulness shall grow strong. Recompense shall follow, and the reward shall be manifested; righteous deeds shall awake, and unrighteous deeds shall not sleep. The pit of torment shall appear, and opposite it shall be the place of rest; and the furnace of Ge-Hinnom shall be disclosed, and opposite it the garden of delight.

14.35 For after death the judgement will come, when we shall live again; and then the names of the righteous shall become manifest, and the deeds of the ungodly shall be disclosed.

2 Baruch

24.1 For behold, the days are coming, and the books will be opened in which are written the sins of all those who have sinned, and moreover, also the treasuries in which are brought together the righteousness of all those who have proven themselves to be righteous.

50.2–4 For the earth will surely give back the dead at that time; it receives them now in order to keep them, not changing anything in their form. But as it has received them so it will give them back. And as I have delivered them to is, so it will raise them. For then it will be necessary to show those who live that the dead are living again, and that those who went away have come back. And it will be that when they have recognized each other, those who know each other at this moment, then my judgment will be strong

51.1–16 And it will happen after this day which he appointed is over that both the shape of those who are found to be guilty as also the glory of those who have proved to be righteous will be changed. For the shape of those who now act wickedly will be made more evil than it is now so that they shall suffer torment. Also, as for the glory of those who proved to be righteous on account of my law, those who possessed intelligence in their life, and those who planted the root of wisdom in their heart—their splendor will then be glorified by transformations, and the shape of their face will be changed into the light of their beauty so that they may acquire and receive the undying world which is promised to them. Therefore, especially they who will then come will be sad, because they despised my Law and stopped their ears lest they hear wisdom and receive intelligence. When they, therefore, will see that those over whom they are exalted now will then be more exalted and glorified than they, then both these and those will be changed, these into the splendor of angels and those into startling visions and horrible shapes; and they will waste away even more. For they will first see and then they will go away to be tormented. Miracles, however, will appear at their own time to those who are saved because of their works and for whom the Law is now a hope, and intelligence, expectation, and wisdom a trust. For they shall see that world which is now invisible to them, and they will see a time which is now hidden to them. And time will no longer make them older. For they will live in the heights of that world and they will be like the angels and be equal to the stars. And they will be changed into any shape which they wished, from beauty to loveliness, and from light to the splendor of glory. For the extents of the garden will be spread out for them, and to them will be shown the beauty of the majesty of the living beings under the throne, as well as all the hosts of the angels, those who are held by my word now lest they show themselves, and those who are withheld by my command so that they may stand at their places until their coming has arrived. And the excellence of the righteous will then be greater than that of the angels. For the first will receive the last, those whom they expected; and the last, those of whom they had heard that they had gone away. For they have been saved from this world of affliction and have put down the burden of anguishes. Because of which men lost their life and for what have those who were on the earth exchanged their soul? For once they chose for themselves that time which cannot pass away without afflictions. And they chose for themselves that time of which the end is full of lamentations and evils. And they have denied the world that does not make those who come to it older. And they have rejected the time which causes glory so that they are not coming to the glory of which I spoke to you before.

Odes of Solomon

15.9 Death has been destroyed before my face, and Sheol has been vanquished by my word.

3 Enoch

28.7 Every day when the Holy One, blessed be he, sits on the throne of judgment and judges all the world, with the scrolls of the living and the scrolls of the dead open before him, all the celestials stand before him in fear, dread, terror, and trembling.

Targum Pseudo-Jonathan

Deut 33.6 Let Reuben live in this world, and not die the second death which the wicked die in the world to come.

Isa 22.14 The prophet said, with my ears I heard when this was decreed from before the Lord of armies, that this iniquity of yours shall not be forgiven until you die the second death, said the Lord, the god, the god of armies.

Isa 65.6, 15 I will recompense to them the wages for their sins, and deliver their bodies to the second death. […] And you shall leave your name for a curse to my chosen, for the Lord God shall slay you with the second death, and call his righteous servants by another name.

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