Question: Referring to Revelation 20:11-15, if we are assured of eternal life, then why will we be judged according to our works, and depending on those works, our names may not be written in the book of life, and therefore we would be cast into the lake of fire?
This passage in Revelation refers to what is typically called the Great White Throne Judgment. In interpreting the meaning of the Book of Deeds (v. 12-13) it is important to keep in view the order of events described in Revelation 20.
The chapter opens (vv. 1-3) with the beginning of Christ’s reign over the earth and the casting of Satan into the Abyss for a thousand years (the Millennium). Verses 4-6 describe those who have been raised from the dead and given authority to judge (4), to serve as priests (6) and to reign with Christ during the Millennium (6).
Who are these people? They are the faithful followers of Jesus Christ:
“Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!” — Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth (1 Cor. 6:3).
“You [Jesus] have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth,” declares Rev. 5:9-10, speaking of all those who have been saved by the blood of Jesus.
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light (1 Pet. 2:9).
We who have given our lives to Jesus in this life will reign with Him during the Millennium and sit with Him at the Great White Throne Judgment. As Rev. 20:12 clearly states, it will be the “dead, [not resurrected believers] great and small, standing before the throne” when the Book of Deeds is opened. The Book of Life is opened as well, revealing that their names are not recorded there. The dead at this time will be resurrected for judgment, judged according to the evidence compiled against them during their earthly lives (v. 13).
The Book of Deeds will reveal all the opportunities these people had to live for Jesus instead of refusing Him. No one will be able to say that God was not fair, or that He had not given ample opportunity to receive His saving grace through Jesus Christ. They will be cast into hell by God’s judgment, but also by their own history of life choices. They who said “No” to Jesus in their earthly life will hear “No” from God at the threshold of eternal life. Hell is the only alternative for those whose names are not recorded in the Book of Life (20:15), and their actions (deeds) in this life will prove where their loyalties truly lay.
So, in answer to the question “why will we be judged according to our works…?” — Revelation 20:12 does not refer to believers in Jesus. Judgment for our sins has already been paid for at the cross (1 Pet. 2:24).
Once again, context is the key to correct interpretation!