Online Bible Commentary
The Great White Throne Judgment
Romans 2:12 For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law 13 (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; 14 for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, 15 who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) 16 in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel. (NKJV)
The Apostle Paul wrote the letter of Romans to the church in Rome while in Corinth, Greece for three months in A.D. 56-57. The letter was written to both Jew and Gentile (non-Jew) believers.
Proper interpretation of any verse in the Bible is dependent upon context. We must look at a verse’s context in the passage, in the book, and in the entirety of the Bible.
In the preceding passages Paul wrote of the judgment of God upon those who practice sin. Paul was referencing non-Christians, not Christians.
Non-Christians are those who reject God, the God of the Bible. If they continue in this rejection, and die as non-Christians after reaching their own unique age of accountability, they will experience the wrath of God’s judgment.
On the other hand, Christians do not experience God’s wrath. Instead, they are subject to God’s discipline, just as a good parent disciplines their child. Only Christians are children of God.
So, in this passage, Paul is addressing non-Christians. That fact makes all the difference in interpreting this passage.
This passage begins with the word “for”, or because, which refers to the previous verse. Verse 11 states “there is no partiality with God”, meaning that God does not treat Jews differently than Gentiles when it comes to salvation.
Every non-Christian, Gentile and Jew, are treated equally. Every non-Christian is judged the same.
The non-Christian Gentiles, those who “have sinned without law will also perish without law” (v. 12a). Non-Christian Gentiles did not have the Mosaic Law, the Scriptures, but they will still “perish” in Hell.
By the same token, non-Christian Jews, those who “have sinned in the law will be judged by the law” (v. 12b). Non-Christian Jews who, despite having the Scriptures, have sinned will also “perish” in Hell.
The sins of Christians have been forgiven and forgotten by God. Non-Christians do not share this benefit. They are still under sin.
In the next three verses, marked by parenthesis’, Paul clarifies verse 12. He begins with the non-Christian Jews. Paul writes “not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified;” (v. 13).
The Jews have the Mosaic Law but, in the eyes of God, they must not just be hearers of the Law but also must obey the Law. Only Jesus lived a sinless life, therefore no one can obey the Law for a lifetime. Therefore, unless they become a Christian they are condemned to Hell.
Next Paul clarifies verse 12 as it pertains to non-Christian Gentiles. He writes “for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves (v. 14). Gentiles who do not have the Law are a law unto themselves. There is something inside them that tells them the difference between right and wrong.
Next Paul tells us what that “something” is. It is our conscience. Paul writes “who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them)” (v. 15).
Our conscience, at least partly, takes the place of the Law, the Scriptures, for those who do not have the Scriptures. Our conscience may not give us great detail but it allows us to accuse or excuse ourselves, to know the difference between wrong and right. Of course, we are still unable to live a sinless life and are in need of a Savior.
In verse 16 Paul completes the sentence he started in verse 12. The two verses together read “For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.”
Verse 12 tells us that non-Christians, both Jew and Gentile, will be judged and verse 16 tells us when that will happen. This judgment will happen “in the day” (v. 16a).
“In the day” is a term used in the Bible referring to the end times, the time when Jesus will return to rule the earth. Specifically, non-Christians will be judged at the Great White Throne Judgment. We do not know the location of The Great White Throne, but it is not Heaven or earth (Revelation 20).
The Great White Throne Judgment is when God judges non-Christians for their sins and condemns them to Hell. “God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel” (v. 16b).
Jesus will judge (Mt. 7:21) all the sins of non-Christians, even those done in “secret”. His judgment will be based on the Gospel, as written by Paul and the other apostles in the New Testament.
Everyone who dies as a non-Christian will be ushered to the Great White Throne Judgment of Jesus Christ, and they all will be condemned to Hell, condemning themselves by a lifetime of rejecting God. Thankfully, this is a judgment Christians will be able to avoid since their sins have already been forgiven.
So, what happens to those who die and have never been exposed to the Gospel? We will leave that up to a just God. As for you, you have just read this and do not fit into that category.
This passage, alone, should spur any non-Christian to become a Christian. If you are not a Christian, or if you are not sure, you can learn how to become a Christian by clicking on the “About” section on the menu of this website. You can get a do-over in life. Become a Christian!