Revelation 20:12, 20

12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.

15 if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire

To me, verse 15 if it's to be understood logically, then it leads to a sense of a possible condition, where: "maybe there is none - maybe there is at least one name is found written in the book of life".

But this possible condition is ruled out as in my own understanding, The Great White Throne Judgement is the second resurrection that happened to the non-elect, while the first resurrection already happened before the elect.

If I myself answer the question, then maybe the answer is something like this: "The Book of Life is there to show them that since the beginning of time, their names are not in it."

But since it's my own answer, I would like to know what is the Calvinist's answer.

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    It would be good if the OP could say why he thinks the Great White Throne judgement is the second judgement. What verses does he draw this belief from? Where is the first judgement spoken of, in his view? Commented Nov 21, 2023 at 13:59
  • If you hold fire for a couple of days, you may yet receive an answer.
    – Lesley
    Commented Nov 26, 2023 at 18:46
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    @AndrewShanks see my answer why the believer is not part of the Great White Throne judgment.
    – SLM
    Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 19:20

4 Answers 4


How Revelation chapter 20 is interpreted depends on whether one takes a literal view of the numbers and events described in the vision the Apostle John was given, or not. It also depends upon whether one adopts a pre-millennial and dispensational view. Was Calvin a pre-millennial dispensationalist? Unlikely, given this approach was invented in the 19th century.

What does Classic Dispensationalism teach about the eternal state?

There are various interpretations on the Great White Throne Judgment and on the first and second resurrections. For example, one view is:

The Great White Throne judgment is when every person is judged according to what they had done (while they were alive and before they died) according to what was written in the books that are opened. The Book of Life contains the names of all who will not be thrown into the lake of fire.

It matters not what Calvin (or Luther, or any man) thinks about what happens and when, and whether the Book of Revelation is to be taken literally or not.

All that matters is our personal standing before God. If we are right with Him then we need not speculate on His judgments.

One thing we can be assured of is that each and every one of us will face judgment, based on what we said and did while alive. God's judgments are righteous and true.

P.S. I found this question too late to do research into what Calvin had to say about the Book of Life and the Great White Throne Judgment. Sorry.

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    Up-voted +1. Yes, agreed. We are judged according to what we have done in deed and in word. And it will also be true that any name not already written down in the book of life will ensure that person shall be cast into a lake of fire. These things are both true. And none can be complacent.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 3:15

Calvinism asserts five related beliefs. For this question, only the first two are necessary to answer the OP question. The first is total depravity and the second is unconditional election.

Once we understand these two tenets, then we will look at the Great White Throne. It is the judgment seat of unbelievers only. It does not include believers in Christ, as will be shown.

Total Depravity

Total depravity (also called radical corruption)[109] asserts that as a consequence of the fall of man into sin, every person is enslaved to sin. People are not by nature inclined to love God, but rather to serve their own interests and to reject the rule of God. Thus, all people by their own faculties are morally unable to choose to trust God for their salvation and be saved (the term "total" in this context refers to sin affecting every part of a person, not that every person is as evil as they could be). Calvinism

Calvinism asserts all are enslaved to sin. We are incapable of choosing the good, Christ, the love of God. We are self-centered. As such, what is the mechanism by which some are saved, yet millions are not?

Unconditional Election

Unconditional election (also called sovereign election)[113] asserts that God has chosen from eternity those whom he will bring to himself not based on foreseen virtue, merit, or faith in those people; rather, his choice is unconditionally grounded in his mercy alone. God has chosen from eternity to extend mercy to those he has chosen and to withhold mercy from those not chosen. Those chosen receive salvation through Christ alone. Those not chosen receive the just wrath that is warranted for their sins against God. ibid

So, God has chosen who He will save and who will receive His wrath from time immemorial. Your works of course mean nothing.

Great White Throne (GWT)

To introduce the GWT within the context of Scripture, we need to understand that it is the second death.

He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death. Rev 2:11

Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years. Rev 20:6

So, what is the second death?

And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.

This casting is after the GWT; it is the result of the GWT.

And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. ... And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. Rev 20:11, 14-15

With these things in mind, we may now answer the OP.

The Great White Throne is for unbelievers only. Believers have no part in the second death that results from the GWT judgment. On what is the judgment based?

Believers are saved by grace through faith.

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. Rev 20:12

"The dead" is the dividing term between believer and unbeliever. Recall Jesus saying have you not heard God is the God of the living (Mat 22:32)? As the OP says, the elect have no part in the GWT.

The GWT judges people based on their works, rather than by salvation via grace through faith (Rom 5:2, Eph 2:8). For Calvinism, God elected those saved before the foundation of the earth. Those born without that election have no desire, no ability, no will, to turn to salvation in Christ.

Thus, for them, the GWT is redundant. Those depraved people face judgment at the GWT. They are judged by their works, but their works avail nothing. They are destined for the lake of fire.

I [OP} would like to know what is the Calvinist's answer.

So, why the GWT? From a Calvinist point of view, these people are already condemned, they are not in the book of life, they are not of the elect. So, why judge someone who has already been judged? It could be to show them that their names are not and never were in the Book of Life. It is also to show them and the elect that our works come far short of the glory of God's offer of salvation by grace.


In October 2022, the pastor of Lausanne Free Church, Switzerland, began a series of articles for Evangelical Times news-magazine entitled "Scripture's hidden gems: Revelation". I was so impressed, I wrote an enthusiastic letter to the E.T. editor (published spring 2023), saying how similar this 'Calvinistic' pastor's views were to the author of a 600+ page book I'd read previously, on the book of the Revelation. Now, the author of that book would not call himself a Calvinist, yet is part of the Reformed faith and unquestionably Protestant. I pulled out the Calvinist pastor's articles and re-read them, with a view to answering this question.

At the outset, Alan Hill made clear that John's writing

"...was not written to divide Christians, but to comfort and unite Christians around a fundamental truth: our Lord is on the throne and he is coming back. ...The diversity of interpretations is legendary. For this reason, many shy away from studying it or preaching on it. This is a great shame. Revelation is the only book in the Bible which comes with a specific promise of blessing to those who read it [and who 'keep the sayings of this book' Rev.1:3 & 22:9]. Revelation was written to comfort God's people." Evangelical Times, October 2022, Alan Hill, p.26

I have inserted mention of the warning to John not to fall down before an angel, and that those keeping the sayings of the visions would be blessed. It's important to add another warning a few verses on. This has specifically to do with which names will be in the Book of Life.

"For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, if any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book. And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book." Revelation 22:18-19 A.V.

The text says that if any one takes away from the words of the book of the prophecy, then shall be taken from them - το μερος αυτου απο βιβλου της ζωης

'their part from the book of life', literally - the part of them from the book of the life (not their name.) That is to say they shall not partake of that which is contained in the book. Their 'part' shall not be in that book. The text never states that their name was ever in the book.

This happens on the awesome Day of Judgment, after everyone has been given resurrection bodies in which to stand before that Throne. The judgments pronounced will prove God to be just, righteous, and vindicated in all decisions as to the final, eternal, state of all before him. The Book of Life would appear to play a role in this.

Back to pastor Hill's article now. He comes to chapters 20 to 22 (headed, The Devil's doom and the believer's joy). What does he say about the point of opening the Book of Life before the Great White Throne of judgment? Not a word. This, however, is what he does say about verses 7 - 15 (wherein the judgment of the living and the dead - of everyone, vs. 12 - takes place, and the Book of Life is opened.)

"...it is reasonable to conclude that the '1,000 years' of Revelation 20 are symbolic. What does it symbolise? The 1,000 years represent the gospel age in which we are still living and in which the good news goes out to all nations. It began with the fall of Satan (Matthew 12) and will end when Satan is released from being bound and the world experiences the great tribulation and falling away (2 Thessalonians 2:3).

Revelation 20:7-15 then tells us that after Satan's 'little season', the Lord Jesus will return, defeat Satan and usher in the Day of Judgment and separation of the lost and saved." Ibid. November 2022 issue, p.27

That last sentence indicates the role of the Book of Life - in separating the lost from the saved. We do not need to know what Calvinists (or any other Christians) consider "the point" of the opening of the Book of Life to be on that great Day. We need to be sure of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, having saved us and loved us with an everlasting love, so that we do not doubt him for a second, no matter how many "points" we do not yet understand. To show the importance of how the purpose of Revelation should impact us, that we cry out with longing, "Come, Lord Jesus Christ, come" (not having any fear of that spectacular event), compare it with what the apostle Paul had written earlier:

"For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing." 2 Timothy 4:6-8 A.V. Bold emphasis mine

Whatever we presently understand - or don't understand - about the book of the Revelation, bear in mind what this Calvinistic pastor, Alan Hill, said at the outset of his series of articles: It "...was not written to divide Christians, but to comfort and unite Christians around a fundamental truth: our Lord is on the throne and he is coming back". Hallelujah!

  • @rhetorician I am not agreeable to the way you have reworded my answer, so could I ask you to put it back to how it was, as I can see no way of doing this myself? Thank you.
    – Anne
    Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 18:25
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    I've sought the intervention of a moderator because I don't know how to undo what I've done. I have no problem whatsoever in reverting to the original posting. Don Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 20:22
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    I rolled back, very nice job being civil! It's easy to roll back, but much nicer when you work it out. To do it yourself in the future, click the "edited..." text, find the last revision you liked (i.e. Anne's last revision) and click "rollback" on that one to revert to the prior post.
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Nov 28, 2023 at 4:18
  • @PeterTurner: Sorry, but I don't follow your explanation. Thanks for trying. In the last 10+ years, this is the first time my edits were questioned. I guess that's why I don't follow. I'm a novice, of sorts. Don Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 20:08
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    @rhe no biggie, this is the first time in 10 years I've rolled back a post without starting an argument!
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Nov 30, 2023 at 4:01

This is not the Calvinist's answer to what this passage in Revelation 20 means, it is the Bible's answer to the Calvinist for what he or she should believe.

A point of debate within Calvinist communities is the question of single versus double predestination. Did God only predestine who would be saved or also predestine those who would be damned?

John Scottus Eriugena in the 9th century debated Gottschalk over the issue, cementing Catholic acceptance of the notion that God does not predestine people for Hell. Eriugena argued for a Catholic concept of human liberty that could live in harmony with God's sovereignty.

This article (https://pages.uoregon.edu/dluebke/Reformations441/Predestination.html) makes a good point:

It has become a commonplace of Reformation historiography to decenter the doctrine of predestination in the theology of John Calvin. Not predestination but justification was the fulcrum of his theology, combined with a strong sense of wonder and awe at the sovereign power of God; as William J. Bouwsma emphasizes, Calvin admired Luther highly and saw himself as fulfilling what the latter had begun. By the same token, predestination was the logical consequence of any doctrine based on salvation by grace alone -- which included the doctrines of both Luther and Zwingli. Finally, Calvin was not, strictly speaking, a “Calvinist,” in the sense that predestination came to occupy an ever more central theological role only after the Genevan reformer's death, when theological debate among Protestants became more polarized and doctrinaire.

With Calvin espousing salvation by Grace alone, some form of predestination became necessary. Thus there are debates over the single versus the double varieties. This passage in Revelation speaks only about the Book of Life. There is no Book of Death named here. This suggests that there is no double predestination. That is an immensely useful result that can be derived from Revelation 20.

  • All very interesting, but this does not answer the Q. It goes off on the tangent, "With Calvin espousing salvation by Grace alone, some form of predestination became necessary" when the Bible showed God foreknew, and predestined some to life centuries before Calvin was born: Rom.8:28-30 & 11:2. 1 Pet.1:20. Because this answer launches into another subject, many comments might result, but I will say no more.
    – Anne
    Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 18:16

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