When we look at Revelation 20 closely we see it is only ever the righteous who come to life at the Great White Throne of Judgment and the resurrection. The wicked never come to life at any point during the judgment and resurrection as the wicked are said to be “dead” at the time of the Great White Throne of Judgment (Rev 20:12) and after this judgment they are then sentenced to “the second death” (Rev 20:14). At no point during or after the Great White Throne of Judgment are the wicked ever said to “come to life” according to Revelation 20. Conversely, the righteous are also said to be “dead” at the time of the judgment (Rev 20:12) and this because it is their “souls” who are judged (Rev 20:4). Here we see that according to Revelation 20, the dead are not resurrected to “life” at the Great White Throne of Judgement. Instead, only the saints “come to life” (Rev 20:4) after the judgement of God is completed.
In Revelation 20:11-15 the “dead” are said to stand before the Great White Throne of Judgment. Do the wicked come to life at that time or are they still “dead” as stated in Revelation 20:11-15? The answer is a bit unclear. If the wicked are sentenced to the “second death” that would seem imply that in order for them to die a second time the wicked must have been briefly brought to life again at the judgment. The idea that the wicked are briefly brought to life at the judgment is implied in Acts 24:15. Anastasis is the Greek word translated resurrection in the “resurrection of the righteous and wicked” in Acts 24:15. Anastasis is a word that implies the act of rising up from a sitting or lying position. If to “sleep” connotes death (Daniel 12:2, 1 Corinthians 15:51-52) then to rise up would seem to imply being brought to life.
Yet it seems just as likely that the dead are sentenced to the second death because they are already dead. Recall that in Revelation 20:13-14 Hades and death give up the dead in them and “[t]hen death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.” In Revelation 20:13-14 we see death itself and their dead, not living beings, being casting into the second death.
John 5:21-30 might also shed light on this question:
21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. 22 Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him. 24 “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. 25 Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. 28 “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned. 30 By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.
John 5:25 says, “[A] time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.” John 5:28 then goes on to say, “[F]or a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice…” When comparing John 5:25 and 28 it seems that all the dead are briefly raised to life at the judgment. Yet as compelling as these verses might seem at first glance, this may not be what Jesus is saying in these verses.
John 5:25 is more accurately translated, “[A]n hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those having heard will live.” When read in this way there seems like there may be a distinction between those who “hear” and those “having [actually] heard” the voice of God. The idea of hearing is equated with understanding and believing in the New Testament. John 8:47 says, “Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” The same message is conveyed in Matthew 13:13-16, Acts 28:27-28, and Romans 11:7-8:
13 This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. 14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. 15 For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ 16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. (Matthew 13:13-16.)
27 For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ 28 “Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” (Acts 28:27-28.)
7 What then? What the people of Israel sought so earnestly they did not obtain. The elect among them did, but the others were hardened, 8 as it is written: “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that could not see and ears that could not hear, to this very day.” (Romans 11:7-8.)
In the above verses we see hearing being equated with understanding and believing. John 11:25 says, “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.” In light of the above cited vs. it would seem that when John 5:25 says, “[T]hose having heard will live,” that this just refers to “those who have done what is good” who “rise to live” in v. 28-29: “[F]or a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.” Notice that it is “those who have done what is good” who “rise to live.” It is not the wicked who live at the resurrection as they are sentenced “to be condemned” (v. 29) at the “second death” (Rev 20:14-15). From the verses cited above it appears that it is only the righteous, not the wicked, who truly hear the voice of God and live at the resurrection as hearing is equated with understanding and believing in the New Testament.1
- Acts 24:15 might also imply that the wicked come to life at the judgment: “[A]nd I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection [ἀνάστασιν] of both the righteous and the wicked.” The term used for resurrection, ἀνάστασιν, literally means rising. Thus this term could also be applied to the judgment of souls in front of the Great White Throne of Judgment. Furthermore, as I explain in Revelation 20, the wicked do, in fact, live again according to Revelation 20:5 after the completion of the thousand years (see Revelation 20).