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The Book of Life

When studying the Scriptural passages referring to the Book of Life, it is interesting to see how many larger Biblical doctrines are touched upon. In one instance, the issue of eternal security is raised; in another, that of election and predestination; still another deals with the end times and final judgments. Perhaps it is because one’s interpretation of these passages hinges on the larger doctrines, and perhaps it is the silence of Scripture as to many of the details regarding the Book of Life, but it is hard to come to a firm conclusion on the exact way in which the Lamb’s book is prepared.

However, though some of the finer details on this subject are obscured due to the fact that “now we see through a glass, darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12), there are some things about the Book of Life on which we can be crystal clear. For example, only those whose names are recorded in that sacred register will be admitted into the New Jerusalem, the heavenly abode of the people of God: “And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:27). Conversely, Revelation 20:15 states that “Whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” In these two verses it is plainly taught that those whose names are found in the book will dwell with God, and everyone else will have their part in the lake of fire. This echoes the words of Christ: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36). To know Christ is to have one’s sins taken away and name inscribed in heaven (Hebrews 12:23); to reject Him is to face God’s judgment according to the perfect record He has made of one’s sins (Revelation 20:13).

So how is one’s name put into the Book of Life? When is it written? Can it be removed? All of these questions start to take us into the area of this subject where godly people see things in different ways. In short, there are two main viewpoints which are offered to answer these questions. One is that the Book of Life has never contained any names except those who are born-again Christians, and that their names cannot and will not ever be removed. Some who hold this view suggest that the actual writing of one’s name occurs at the moment of conversion to Christ. Others believe that God, in His perfect foreknowledge, completed the Book of Life before time began. The other main perspective is that everyone’s name is recorded at the moment of conception, and unbelievers ultimately have their names blotted out, either when they irrevocably reject Christ, or at the moment of their death. This view helps to account for children who die before the “age of accountability.” In either case, notice that the end result—the final content of the book—is the same; only the means of the preparation of the book is in question.

How is it possible for there to be two widely-varying interpretations on this subject? Perhaps a good place to start is with the last mention of the Book of Life in the Bible. “And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city” (Revelation 22:19). Many Bible translations substitute “tree of life” for “book of life” in this verse, due to the fact that most Greek manuscripts have this reading. If “tree of life” is the correct reading, then this verse isn’t even applicable to our subject; if “book of life” is correct, then it seems to indicate that God can and will remove names from the Book of Life. Regardless, anyone who tampers with God’s Word will also be denied access to “the holy city,” indicating that they will not have a claim to either the tree of life or the book of life, since the tree of life is located there, and entrance to the city is granted to those who are written in the book (Revelation 22:2;21:27). This is a solemn lesson: one cannot honor God while dishonoring His Word.

A careful examination of two other verses in Revelation reveals another point of divergence. In speaking of the ones who will be present on the earth to behold and worship the coming beast, it is said: “Whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” and “Whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8; 17:8). Some point to the phrase “from the foundation of the world” to say that the Book of Life was completed in eternity past, and therefore no one is either currently being added or blotted out. However, these verses use the same Greek words translated as “since the foundation of the world” in Hebrews 9:26, and stand in contrast to other Scriptures which speak of actions taking place before the foundation of the world (John 17:24; Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:20). Thus, these verses do not prohibit the Book of Life from being an ongoing work. On the other hand, they could be taken to mean that at no point since creation have those names been written in the book.

Next is Revelation 3:5, which states: “He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels.” To some, the very mention of blotting in this passage indicates that having one’s name—even that of a believer—removed from the Book of Life is a real possibility. However, this verse does not seem to give a warning (as in v. 3), but a promise. Look at some of the other promises made to the “overcomers.” They will “eat of the tree of life” (2:7), “not be hurt of the second death” (2:11), and “be clothed in white raiment” (3:5). The opposite of these things is not the part of any Christian. On the other hand, just as the unbeliever will not eat of the tree of life, will be hurt of the second death, and will be denied before the Father (Matthew 10:33), this verse may allow for the unbeliever’s name being recorded in and then blotted out of the Book of Life.

Further, two New Testament verses would seem to favor the “believers only” idea by mentioning one’s present inclusion there as a cause for joy: “Rejoice, because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20) and encouragement: “my fellowlabourers, whose names are in the book of life” (Philippians 4:3). On the other hand, two Old Testament Scriptures would point more toward a “write and blot” method: “Whosoever hath sinned against Me, him will I blot out of My book” (Exodus 32:33); “Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous” (Psalm 69:28).

In either case, it is God alone who enters the names, and it is He who will open the book in a coming day. Will your name be found there?