Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it
The scene before John is very similar to that which Daniel saw in his night vision:
I watched till thrones were put in place, and the Ancient of Days was seated; His garment was white as snow, and the hair of His head was like pure wool. His throne was a fiery flame, its wheels a burning fire; a fiery stream issued and came forth from before Him. A thousand thousands ministered to Him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him. The court was seated, and the books were opened. (Dan. Dan. 7:9-10)In Daniels vision, it is the Father who judged on behalf of the Son. The judgment involved the decision to terminate the reign of Antichrist and give the kingdom to the Son and the saints:
The Ancient of days (God in His own ineffable person, not in the person of Christ) did sit in the role of a judge about to pass sentence. He is the Judge here [in Daniel Dan. 7:9-10], because the case is Christs, involving the judgment of the Antichrist (Dan. Dan. 7:11-12), and the Son does not judge His own case, which is the peculiar province of the Father, to be distinguished from the province of the Son as Judge (cf. John John 5:22).1The final judgment of the wicked is almost certainly to be judged by the One Who died on behalf of the world (John John 1:29; 1Ti. 1Ti. 2:6; Heb. Heb. 2:9; 2Pe. 2Pe. 2:1; 1Jn. 1Jn. 2:2) to whom judgment has been given:
For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him. (John John 5:22-23)
Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead. (Acts Acts 17:30-31)Very little is said concerning the scene. The description of the throne is pregnant with forboding:
Weigh each word. Great,it is the Infinite before whom the finite must stand; White,it is the unveiled, undimmed blaze of the divine holiness and purity and justice; Throne,it is majesty unlimited, in which inheres utter right to dispose of the destiny of creatures. Before such a throne, creatures cannot stand; but they shall standeven the lost!2from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away
At the opening of the sixth seal, the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up (Rev. Rev. 6:14+). Here, the old order of things gives up its dead and retreats in preparation for the creation of a new heavens and earth: Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea (Rev. Rev. 21:1+).
Jesus had predicted that Gods word would outlast the first heavens and earth: Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away (Mtt. Mat. 24:35). The first heavens and first earth were preserved by Gods word for a time, but now the time has come for their judgment by fire and the perdition of ungodly men (2Pe. 2Pe. 3:7). This marks the end of the period of The Day of the Lord. See commentary on Revelation 21:1.
The Talmud tells the legend of how Dadrian the emperor asked Yehoshua b. Hananya (c. A.D. 90): I would like to see your God. Yehoshua relied: You cannot see him. The emperor said: Indeed I must see him. Then the rabbi took Hadrian and placed him in the full blaze of the sun and said to him: Look into it. He answered: I cannot. Yehoshua replied; If of the sun you say I cannot look at it, which is only one of the servants who stand in the presence of God, how much more is it true of the Shekinah.3The flight of His own creation from before his unmitigated presence also infers a degree of terror for those who are about to stand before the piercing gaze of His omniscient eyes of fire (Rev. Rev. 1:14+; Rev. 19:12+). Their judgment is before the completely righteous, all-powerful Perfection of Perfections.
And there was found no place for them.
The old order vanishes away. In the process, the dead are given up (see below) to stand before the terrifying presence of God.
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, . . . the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? (2Pe. 2Pe. 3:10-12)Although we are not told of the safe harbor provided for the righteous by God during this momentous transition when the subatomic elements disassemble themselves, we can assume they are supernaturally provided for.
Writing many centuries in advance of particle physics and atom smashers, Peter describes the end of the universe as we know it in terms which would be difficult for any modern physicist to improve upon. What will it take to bring about such an immense conflagration? We are convinced it will be the mere blink of the eye for God. Perhaps for the barest of time, less than a split nanosecond, He withdraws His sustaining power from the material order and all the matter of the universe converts back to an enormous quantity of energy in an explosion which is described by a famous Jewish equation: e = mc2.
It is not that they [the earth and heaven] are to be purified and rehabilitated, but that the reverse of creation is to take place. They are to be uncreated. As they came from nothing at the word of God, they are to be sucked back into nothingness by the same word of God. Science may say that matter cannot be made and that matter cannot be destroyed, but such an attitude does not believe in the God of creation.4
The phenomenon may well be one of mass/energy conversion, with the matter of earth structure converted into energy (heat, sound, or light). This same energy will be available for reconversion into the materials of the renewed earth, with all the contaminating effects of sin and the curse purged out of it.5We can only speculate in great ignorance at the immensity of the scene these few lines describe.