11 August 2012

Revelation 20:11-15

"I saw a great white throne and the one who sat on it" (v. 11)


Chapters 4 and 5 of the book of Revelation set out God's plan. Chapters 20-22 set out its fulfilment. Chapters 6-19 describe the defeat of evil, the overcoming of the resistance of human beings, and the stripping away of the structures behind which they attempt to hide. Rather than showing this in one picture, there is a long series of scenes. That is because apocalyptic writings like this are not obsessed with the eternal 'end' but with pulling back the curtains to show what is happening in the ambivalent time and history in which we live. We are compromised with the powers of this world simply by living in it. What matters is how we can turn our attention from those powers to concentrate on God; to discern that we need to judge our experience in the light of the stark images of the 'end'.

In the presence of God, sitting on a throne, everything is stripped away. All the boundaries of the old order have vanished (the earth and the heaven have fled - verse 11). All those saints and martyrs who have never been marked with the marks of the Beast have already been dealt with in Revelation 20:4. Now the others (called here "the dead" (v. 12)) are dealt with. Verses 13-15 draw out what is summarised in verse 12. There are books which contain the evidence of their lives. The main evidence is whether people have turned to God or away from God. That explains why their names have been or should be written in another book, the "book of life" (v. 12), which is a register of God's people. Although today's passage seems to emphasise punishment and destruction, even here in the final resort the ultimate note is of God's forgiveness and love. In Revelation 21:22 - 22:5 the kings of the nations whose structures have compromised with the beast have been able to turn to God and to be cleansed enough to be written in the book of life.

To ponder

  • What does it feel like to see that you are in the presence of God?
  • What might be in the book of evidence of your life?
  • How can you use these images to help you discern how to turn to God in the ambivalences of your life?

Bible notes author

Ken Howcroft

Ken Howcroft was designated by the Conference in 2013 to be the President of the 2014 Conference. He is currently a minister of the British Conference of the Methodist Church seconded to the Methodist Church in Italy to look after the English-language Methodist Church in Rome.