Salvation by Works?

Rev 22 12 b

Q. Rev. 20: 12-15.  In v.13, “each person was judged according to what he had done.”  It sounds like people are saved by works but we know otherwise in Eph 2:8-9.  What does v.13 mean?

  1. First note the context. The entire paragraph reads:
  • Rev 20:11 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them.12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

The passage is about judgment at the “great white throne”. This term appears only here in the Bible. Many commentators believe that the final judgment consists of two components – the judgment seat of God or Christ for believers, and the great white throne judgment primarily for unbelievers. The former appears in:

  • Rom 14:10 But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgmentseat of God.
  • 2 Co 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgmentseat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.

Notice that Paul said “we” will all stand before God’s or Christ’s judgment seat, indicating that this judgment is for Christians. But as you rightly pointed out in Eph 2:

  • Eph 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it isthe gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

our salvation is by grace through faith, not through works. Then what’s the judgment seat of Christ for? For “recompense”, compensation or reward for loss or harm suffered, or effort made. Christians will be judged for their deeds in the body, according to what they have done, whether good or bad. This judgment is not for their sins, because our Lord already paid the penalty for our sins on the cross:

  • 1 Pet 2:24 and He Himself boreour sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.

However, God will reward us according to our degree of faithfulness. There are degrees of reward in heaven. For example, in the parable of the minas:

  • Lk 19:12-13, 15-19 So He said, “A nobleman went to a distant country to receive a kingdom for himself, and then13 And he called ten of his slaves, and gave them ten minas and said to them, ‘Do business with this until I come back.’ … When he returned, after receiving the kingdom, he ordered that these slaves, to whom he had given the money, be called to him so that he might know what business they had done. 16 The first appeared, saying, ‘Master, your mina has made ten minas more.’ 17 And he said to him, ‘Well done, good slave, because you have been faithful in a very little thing, you are to be in authority over ten cities.’ 18 The second came, saying, ‘Your mina, master, has made five minas.’ 19 And he said to him also, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’ 

Each slave received one mina. The first made 10 minas more, and was rewarded with authority over 10 cities. The second made 5 minas, and was rewarded to be over 5 cities. Each was compensated proportional to his diligence and faithfulness.

What about the great white throne judgment? Those judged were called “the dead” (4 times, twice each in v 12 & 13). They were judged “according to their deeds” (2 times, in v 12 & 13). There is no mention of anyone being justified by their deeds, because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight (Rom 3:20). Their names were not found in the “book of life” (2 times, in v 12 & 15), and they were thrown into the “lake of fire” (3 times, twice in v 14, once in v 15). Based on the above scholars conclude that those judged were non-believers sentenced to be punished in hell.

Why according to their deeds? By rejecting God’s grace freely offered to them through Christ, they have elected to face God’s judgment by their own merits. Of course no one meets God’s righteous standard and all fall short. But, depending on the knowledge they have and the privileges they have received, some will be punished more severely than others:

  • Lk 10:12, 14 I say to you, it will be more tolerable in that day for Sodom than for that city. … But it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the judgment than for you.
  • Lk 12:47-48 And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes,48 but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.

 The penalty is proportional to the crime e.g. premeditated murder is more serious than manslaughter. Those who offend knowingly or deliberately will be punished more strictly than those who infringe unknowingly or inadvertently. The action, motive, and the extent of planning are all taken into consideration.

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  • NW  On March 8, 2019 at 2:27 pm

    Thanks for your answer. I had the same question too.

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