The Final Judgment
And the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. Rev. 20:12
Revelation 20 begins with the famous passage on the millenium which has caused so many disputes and killed not a few trees from the paper generated over the volumes written upon it. I won't at this time enter into that fray, but pause to take notice of the serious and solemn words at the end of the chapter. Here we, with John, see "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" (12). The judgment according to works is reiterated in the next verse, and then we are told that "whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire" (15).
We must affirm, with the rest of the Bible, that the gift of eternal life is not based on works, but on the grace of God through Jesus Christ, received by faith in him (cf. Eph. 2:8-9). And yet, we must also affirm that God is not indifferent to our works, and that though the Bible universally affirms salvation by grace, it also universally affirms that the final judgment will be according to works. Our Lord put it this way: "Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his [the Son of man's] voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation" (Jn. 5:28-29).
How do we put these two things together? In this way: grace changes the life, and where there is grace, there will be good works (Eph. 2:10). Where there is no holiness, there is no grace. And so those whose works are evil will receive eternal judgement on the last day, whereas those whose works are good will be raised to life everlasting.
This reality is meant to do something for us. It is meant to help us understand just how serious sin is, for look at its end - terrifying and awful. It is meant to help us understand the folly of abandoning the Christian path for the ease of temporary pleasures which are ungodly. Above all, it is meant to help us appreciate more fully the love of God in rescuing his people from this dreadful end.
Revelation 20 precedes chapters 21 and 22, which are about the coming eternal glory in a new heavens and new earth. Which tells me if we want to appreciate the glories of eternal life we need to also be appropriately shaken by the terrors of eternal death. Let those of us who have reposed ourselves upon Christ for salvation and life be all the more thankful for his grace which rescues us from the wrath to come. And let all those who are yet outside of Christ take note and flee from the wrath to come by fleeing to Christ.