Could you please explain Revelation 20:11.


Beginning with verse 11, Revelation 20 describes the Great White Throne Judgment period, which is also referred to in Scripture as the “Second Resurrection.” It will follow the First Resurrection (of all those true Christians who will have been resurrected to immortal life, at the time of Christ’s return). The Second Resurrection will also follow the Millennium of 1,000 years of Christ’s rule here on earth (compare Revelation 20:1-4).

In the Second Resurrection, all those who died prior to Christ’s return, without having had the Holy Spirit at the time of their death, and who did not commit the unpardonable sin, will be brought back to physical life (Those who committed the unpardonable sin will be resurrected in the Third Resurrection, to be destroyed in the lake of fire, compare Revelation 20:13-15).

Following the Third Resurrection, God will create “a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea” (Revelation 21:1).

But what is meant with the statement in Revelation 20:11, describing the time at the very beginning of the Great White Throne Judgment period? We read:

“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.”

Since those who are being resurrected in the Second Resurrection will live on this earth, apparently for one hundred years (compare Isaiah 65:20), in what way will heaven and earth flee from the face of God at the very beginning of the Great White Throne Judgment?

Notice, first of all, that it does not say that heaven and earth will cease to exist at that time. It says that they will flee away from the face or presence of God and that in His presence, there was no room for them. It seems to give a picture of heaven (better: the sky) and earth having to submit to God’s Judgment, and that they cannot continue to exist in opposition to Him. We must understand that the book of Revelation speaks many times in symbolic or figurative language.

However, some commentaries feel that the passage in Revelation 20:11 is to be understood quite literally, and they conclude that heaven and earth will be dissolved at the time when the Great White Throne Judgment begins.

Compare, for example, Wesley’s Notes (who wrongfully applies certain events which will occur after the Third Resurrection to the time at the beginning of the Second Resurrection):

“From whose face the earth and the heaven fled away – Probably both the aerial and the starry heaven; which shall pass away with a great noise. And there was found no place for them – But they were wholly dissolved, the very elements melting with fervent heat. [However, this is a reference to 2 Peter 3:10, which does not speak about events at the beginning of the Second Resurrection, but refers to events long after that time.] It is not said, they were thrown into great commotions, but they fled entirely away; not, they started from their foundations, but they fell into dissolution; not, they removed to a distant place, but there was found no place for them; they ceased to exist; they were no more. And all this, not at the strict command of the Lord Jesus; not at his awful presence, or before his fiery indignation; but at the bare presence of his Majesty, sitting with severe but adorable dignity on his throne.”

Similar the People’s New Testament:

“From whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. See Re[velation] 21:1. There is to be a new heaven and earth. The old ones are destroyed to be reconstructed.”

However, the new heaven and the new earth—consisting of spirit, not matter—will not be created until after the Third Resurrection. Before then, there must be a physical earth, because we read in Revelation 20:13, referring to the Third Resurrection, that the sea gave up their dead who were in it, and that Hades—the Grave—gave up its dead that were in it. [At the time of the new heavens and the new earth, there will be no more sea, compare again Revelation 21:1.]

Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible recognizes the difficulty in trying to interpret Revelation 20:11 literally, even though he insists in a literal application of the verse:

“… from whose face the earth and the heavens fled away, and there was found no place for them; which is to be understood not figuratively… but literally, and not of the present earth and heaven, as they now are… but of the new heaven and new earth…; and the phrases of fleeing away, and place being found no more for them, show the entire annihilation and utter abolition of them… but though this is mentioned here, it will not be till after the judgment is over; for how otherwise will the dead have a place to stand in before the throne, or hell, that is the grave, and also the sea, give up their dead… but it is observed here, though afterwards done, to set off the majesty of the Judge upon the throne, at whose sight, and by whose power, this will be effected.”

However, this interpretation does not agree with the clear time line of the biblical account, according to which “the earth and the heaven fled away” at the beginning of the Great White Throne Judgment, and not after the Third Resurrection. So, the interpretations of Wesley, the People’s New Testament and Gill must be rejected.

Note, too, these statements by the New Bible Commentary: Revised, agreeing that Revelation 20:11 does not refer to the same time as the creation of the new heaven and the new earth, referred to in Revelation 21:1:

“If the departing of heaven and earth from the face of God is to be taken in any literal sense as a precursor of the new heavens and earth (cf. 2 Pet. 3:10-13), then the solitary spectacle of the great white throne as the one reality upon which men may gaze is indeed an awesome sight… But the description may be purely poetic, to enhance the terrifying grandeur of the scene. The Judge is God Himself [we might want to add: in the Person of Jesus Christ].” 

Lehmann Strauss, “The Book of the Revelation,” admits on page 341 that he does not know all that is involved in the phrase, “the earth and the heaven fled away,” and he also suggests that it could refer to the time described in 2 Peter 3:10-12, which is clearly wrong, as that passage does refer to the time AFTER the Third Resurrection. Still, the following comments are worth repeating:

“This does not imply the annihilation of the very elements which make up the earth and the heaven. We have a very similar expression in Isaiah 34:4; 51:6; and Daniel 2:35. … the removal of a person or thing does not imply extinction. To pass away does not mean to cease to be.”

This is true in some cases, even though not necessarily in all situations.

The most reasonable explanation has been found in Barnes’ Notes in the Bible, even though he is likewise confused regarding the time line, stating that the Great White Throne Judgment will take place at the time of the return of Jesus Christ, while Revelation 20:5 clearly says that it will take place one thousand years later. Barring this error, the remainder of his explanation has merit:

“And I saw a great white throne – This verse commences the description of the final judgment, which embraces the remainder of the chapter. The first thing seen in the vision is the burning throne of the Judge. The things that are specified in regard to it are, that it was ‘great,’ and that it was ‘white.’ The former expression means that it was high or elevated. Compare Isaiah 6:1. The latter expression – white – means that it was ‘splendid or shining.’ Compare 1 Kings 10:18-20. The throne here is the same which is referred to in Matthew 25:31, and called there ‘the throne of his glory.”’

“And him that sat on it – The reference here undoubtedly is to the Lord Jesus Christ, the final Judge of mankind (compare Matthew 25:31), and the scene described is what will occur at his second advent [As mentioned, this is false. The scene described here is what will occur 1,000 years after His Second Coming.]

“From whose face – Or, from whose presence; though the word may be used here to denote more strictly his face – as illuminated, and shining like the sun. See Revelation 1:16: ‘And his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.’

“The earth and the heaven fled away – That is, as the stars, at the rising of the sun, seem to flee to more remote regions, and vanish from human view, so when the Son of God shall descend in his glory to judge the world, the earth and all other worlds shall seem to vanish. Everyone must admire the sublimity of this image; no one can contemplate it without being awed by the majesty and glory of the final Judge of mankind. Similar expressions, where the natural creation shrinks back with awe at the presence of God, frequently occur in the Bible…

“And there was found no place for them – They seemed to flee ‘entirely away,’ as if there was ‘no’ place where they could find a safe retreat, or which would receive and shelter them in their flight. The image expresses, in the most emphatic manner, the idea that they entirely disappeared, and no language could more sublimely represent the majesty of the Judge.’”

As the sea and the grave will give up their dead even after the Second Resurrection, it is clear that the earth must still exist in its physical form at that time. The expression in Revelation 20:11 [“…the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them”] should therefore be viewed mainly as a poetic description of the majesty, glory and power of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, from whom man cannot hide our sins and before whom man cannot stand, if he is unwilling to repent of his sins (Matthew 12:36; Romans 14:10-12).

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

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