John saw a large white throne, the white color suggesting justice in the absolute sense. Before the face or presence of the one seated on the throne, the Most High, earth and heaven fled and seemingly disappeared, for John perceived that “no place was found for them.” (20:11) In view of the fact that the judgment of the dead follows, aspects of the old form of the world (represented by the earth and the visible sky or celestial dome) still remain as those raised to life were once a part of that old form of the world and must face judgment for their deeds. As everything will be made new, nothing of the old, not even a painful memory, would be allowed to remain and all accounts would have to be settled. In view of the complete renewal of everything, the picture of heaven and earth fleeing is most appropriate. (Isaiah 65:17-25; 21:4, 5)
John saw persons from all stations of life before the throne, great and small or insignificant. Scrolls were opened, and the judgment was based on the written record of their deeds. This visionary representation reflects other statements in the Scriptures. “On the day of judgment people will render an account for every careless word they speak. By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil.” (Matthew 12:36, 37; 2 Corinthians 5:10, NAB; see also Romans 2:11-16.) Another scroll was also opened. This scroll, the “scroll of life,” evidently listed all who would be granted life, whereas the scrolls containing the record of deeds explained the absence of certain names in the “scroll of life.” (20:12)
The judgment scene may have reminded John of the one in the book of Daniel (7:9-11). In that case, too, books or scrolls were opened, which apparently contained the record made by the beastly ruling power and on the basis of which punitive judgment was executed.
In order to be judged according to their deeds, the dead everywhere would need to be raised — those who perished in the sea, the dead in Hades or the realm of the dead, and anyone else in the grip of death. Death and Hades are then cast into the “lake of fire,” signifying the annihilation of death and the realm of the dead. As “death and Hades” are not conscious entities, this reveals that the “lake of fire” and the torments associated therewith are not literal. In the case of those whose names are not recorded in the scroll of life, they, too, would be cast into the lake of fire or have the punishment of second death imposed on them. (20:13-15)
In the scene of judgment (20:11-15), the focus is on a large white throne and the one seated thereon, but none of the elements of the earlier heavenly scene (4:1-3) are mentioned. John did not say anything about the location of the throne. Possibly, as in Daniel’s vision (7:9-14), the throne was seen under the visible sky, perhaps in midheaven.
The concept about a 1,000-year probationary period followed by a judgment based on post-resurrection deeds for persons who do not share in the first resurrection cannot be supported contextually. Moreover, references to judgment elsewhere in the Scriptures relate to deeds committed prior to death, and understanding the scrolls to contain the record of pre-resurrection deeds requires no interpretation outside the framework of the immediate context of Revelation 20.