By Paul Miles
This is the third installment of a three-part series on the Great White Throne Judgment and Bema Judgment. The first two articles considered the furniture and attendees at the two judgments and today we will look at the criteria of the two judgments.
The Great White Throne Judgment
In Rev 20:11-15, The Apostle John gives us some details about the Great White Throne Judgment. Pay attention1 to what he says about the books there:
Then I saw a great white throne and Him who 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 according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.
Notice there are two categories of books. There are books (plural) and then there is the Book of Life (singular). Now, the Greek word for 'book' that John uses is biblion. It's the same basic root as some English words related to books, such as "bibliography" (a list of books) or "bibliophobia" (the fear of books). The Bible is a book of books, and the word, "Bible," comes from the Latin word, biblia, which comes from the Greek, biblion. Anyhow, this word, biblion occurs three times in three different forms in this Rev 20:12, so let's look at them more closely.
"And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books [biblia] were opened."
Biblia is the plural form of biblion. It's in the nominative case, which is just a fancy grammatical term meaning it tells us what "were opened." Now, when we open a book today, it's different from what it meant to open a book 2,000 years ago. Revelation was written before books were bound, so this is probably more like a scroll being unrolled. Of course, nowadays people 'open books' by turning on their kindles. But, that's not too important, so let's move on.
And another book [bibion] was opened, which is the Book of Life.
Now, where it has "which is the Book of Life" in English, the Greek doesn't use the word for book. More literally, this verse could be translated, "And another book was opened, which is that of life." That's a little awkward in English, so most translations repeated "the book" just to clarify. Anyhow, the book here is singular. The word, biblion, is singular and the awkward "which is that of" actually includes three singular words, which further indicates that this is only one book.
And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books [bibliois].
This time, we've got bibliois which is another plural form. It's a bit different from biblia, because this time it's in the dative case, which just means that "books" comes after the preposition "in." So, we aren't talking about that specific Book of Life anymore, but rather the other books that will be present at the Great White Throne Judgment. This sentence tells us what is written in the books: the people's works. The Book of Life, on the other hand, doesn't have works written, but has the names of those who will not go to the Lake of Fire.
It is important to understand that the books (plural) are different from the Book of Life (singular). Notice that before looking in the Book of Life, the dead are judged according to their works in the other books. It's likely that the reason for this is to determine what kind of experience they will have in the eternal lake of fire, but it's also a demonstration that their works are not sufficient for eternal life. Only Christ's work can earn eternal life. These books of works have no bearing on who is or is not found in the Book of Life. The Book of Life contains those who have eternal life, which is granted by faith apart from works. Even if someone spends his whole life doing lots of really good works, all he's doing is filling the books of works; he's doing nothing to get himself written in the Book of Life.
So, getting back to the topic of criteria, the final decision at the Great White Throne Judgment is that since the attendees lack the necessary requirement, they go to the Lake of Fire. The reason people go to the Lake of Fire is not because they have too few good deeds or too many sins in the books of works, but because they are not listed in the Book of Life.
The Bema (Judgment Seat) of Christ
The Bema of Christ has nothing to do with the Book of Life. As demonstrated earlier, the bema is not a judicial judgment to condemn the unsaved, but rather a rewarding judgment to give prizes to the saved. In one sense, the bema and the Great White Throne are similar, in that they both judge works to determine experience in a place that has already been determined before the judgment. The significant difference is that one grants positive rewards to a specific group of the regenerate, and the other grants lighter or harsher punishment to all unregenerate. This is the key difference in the criteria: The Great White Throne Judgment will consult the Book of Life; the Bema of Christ will not.1 If you really want to get detailed, then stop reading this article! Then, go read our article about observing Scriptures and then apply the exercise from that article to Rev 20:11-15 and then come back to this article.