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The Book of Life


by Merrill Douglass

 

 

My thinking has been greatly influenced by my friend and mentor, Fred Kenison, and I have drawn much of this article from his book, The Apocalypse of Revelation.  I consider Mr. Kenison to be gifted by God to explain the deeper truths of the Bible, with a rather unique approach to the interpretation of scripture.  More recently, I have been introduced to the writings of J. Preston Eby, and I am very impressed with his spiritual approach to scripture.  In this article I have drawn some thoughts from his series, The Lamb’s Book of Life.  Both of these men have taken different, non-orthodox approaches to the interpretation of scripture, yet they both reach similar conclusions.  I am indebted to them for teaching me how to better discern the truths of God’s word.

 

 

The concept of God having a book is fascinating, and many questions immediately spring to mind.  What is this book?  How could it be a book when books were not invented until the 1500s?  Is it really a scroll instead of a book?  How big is it?  What kind of material is it?  Does God use a pen, or pencil, or something else to write with?  What language is it written in?  How many names does it contain?  Is my name in it?  What is my recorded name?  Why would God need to write something down in a book?  Does he have trouble remembering me?  Does his memory get fuzzy with age?

 

Interesting as the questions may be, they are actually meaningless when we realize that the references to God having a book are obviously symbolic.  This is especially clear since most of the references to a “book of life” are in Revelation, a veritable book of symbols.  Symbols are not intended to be taken literally; therefore, since God does not have a literal “book,” all these references must indicate something else.  Please keep that in mind as we proceed.

 

The book of life has been the subject of many misleading ideas.  For example, evangelical preachers often link the book of life to an emotional appeal, urging people to accept Jesus as their personal savior so their names will be written in the book of life and they will go to heaven when they die.  Of course, there are several things wrong with this.  For one, the scriptures never tell people to accept Jesus as their personal savior so they can go to heaven.  Neither do the scriptures say that if they do so, their names will then be written in the book of life. 


The actual phrase “book of life” occurs only eight times in the Bible (KJV), and seven of them are in Revelation.  In addition, there are six instances in the Old Testament that refer to Jehovah having a book.  In this article, all verses quoted come from the KJV.

 

The first mention of Jehovah having a book in which names were retained or blotted out, is found in Exodus 32:30-34. 

“And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses said unto the people, Ye have sinned a great sin: and now I will go up unto the Lord; peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin.  And Moses returned unto the Lord, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold.  Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin--; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written.  And the Lord said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book.  Therefore now go, lead the people unto the place of which I have spoken unto thee: behold, mine Angel shall go before thee: nevertheless in the day when I visit I will visit their sin upon them.” 

 

There are several interesting points here.  First, it is not God’s book ( as most preacher’s claim), but Jehovah’s book.  Second, there is no mention of when or how the names are added or subtracted, only that Jehovah has such a book and that he reserves the right to blot out the names of those who sin against him.  The “book” is obviously an indication that there are different consequences awaiting those who are obedient and those who are not.  There will be something positive for those whose names are in the book, and something negative for those whose names are not in the book.

 

Moses obviously understood the significance whether or not a person’s name was in the book, and he tried unsuccessfully to intervene for his brethren, to get Jehovah to change his mind.  He was even willing to take the place of his brethren.  Paul, who also must have understood the significance of the book, expressed a similar thought in Romans 9:3: 

For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren.”

 

David was the next person to mention that Jehovah had a book.  Psalms 40:7-8 says,

“Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.” 

 

David said that the book contained information about him.  He reinforced this point in Psalms 56:8: 

“Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?” 

 

The implication here is that this book contains more than just his name; it also contains a record of all his deeds and even his thoughts.  In other words, this book contains everything there is to know about him.  What a revelation!

 

Please note the phrase, “thy law is written within my heart.”  We will come back to this point shortly.  For now, let us note that this is obviously another symbol.

 

In Psalms 69:27-28, David wrote: 

Add iniquity unto their iniquity: and let them not come into thy righteousness.  Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous.” 

 

While asking Jehovah to take care of his enemies, David added a new element.  He referred to the book as the book of the living, or the book of life.  David was saying that those whose names were blotted out should not “come into thy righteousness,” which was his way of saying they would not enter the messianic kingdom, or the 1,000 year reign.  

 

This is the first explanation of the positive and negative aspects.  In other words, those whose names are in the book will gain entry to the kingdom of God.  [For more details on the kingdom of God, see Monograph 7 in Fred Kenison’s book, What Scripture Says About Salvation.]

 

This is a powerful point.  The whole thrust of the New Testament message preached by Jesus and Paul concerned the kingdom of God.  Many years before that, David said that only the people whose names are in the book of life would gain the kingdom.  This is another case where the New Testament is simply an expression of the Old Testament in the light of the sacrifice made by Jesus.  Given this, a prime concern should be how our names get into the book of life.

 

The next mention of a book is in Psalms 139:14-16.  

I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.  My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.  Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.” 

 

This passage says that David’s name was written in the book before David was born.  Faith, evidently, has nothing to do with having our names  written in the book.  David certainly claimed no righteousness of his own to justify having his name being in the book; he gave all the credit to Jehovah.  Having our names in the book of life is apparently another element of God’s grace.

 

Some believe that only the names of the eventual righteous are written in the book, or only the names of the spiritual elites, the giants of the faith.  However, this raises a question of why names would be blotted out if only the righteous get their names in the book in the first place. 

 

Neither does this position seem consistent with I Peter 1:17. 

And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear.” 

 

In other words, God does not play favorites, but gives everyone a fair chance.  Therefore, a better position seems to be that all names—all people created—were recorded in the book before the foundation of the earth.  The concern, then, is not one of how to get our names in the book, but how to prevent our names from being erased from the book.

 

The last passage in the Old Testament to mention Jehovah’s book is in Daniel 12:1-3. 

“And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book.  And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.  And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.”

 

These verses mention that deliverance into the kingdom is a blessing for those whose names are in the book.  When tribulation comes upon the earth, those whose names are in the book will be delivered from that trouble.  They will also be resurrected to everlasting life, or the kingdom, or into the righteousness of God.  Again, here is an explanation of the positive and negative aspects, and a confirmation of what David wrote in the Psalms.

 

Another blessing mentioned in these verses is that those who turn many to righteousness shall shine as the brightness of the firmament.  Notice it does not tell us to “save souls,” but to turn people to righteousness.  Neither does it tell us to have people ask Jesus into their hearts, or to accept him as their personal savior.  It simply says, “turn people to righteousness,” which is the essence of repentance, the same message preached by John, the Baptist.

 

The actual phrase, book of life, was first used by Paul in Philippians 4:3. 

“And I entreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose names are in the book of life.” 

 

Paul evidently believed that the names of those laboring with him in the gospel were still written in the book of life.  It does not say how he knew this, but he did know the scriptures (Old Testament) and could certainly have discerned it from there.

 

All the other scriptures pertaining to the book of life are in Revelation.  Again, remember that Revelation is a book of symbols, and not to be taken literally.  In fact, these verses in Revelation reinforce the message in the Old Testament, updated in the light of what Jesus accomplished.

 

In Revelation 3:5, Jesus said,

“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.” 

 

The word confess comes from exomologesomai, which means to acknowledge that someone is in agreement with you, or with someone who serves your cause. 

 

Please note that Jesus did not say he would add the names to the book of life.  He simply affirmed that he would not blot them out.  He also said that he will acknowledge their names before the Father.  What a promise! 

 

The message here in Revelation is the same as the one delivered by David and Daniel: The overcomers will be the ones who actually enter the kingdom of God.  The emphasis here is on the positive aspects for those whose names are in the book of life.

 

On the other hand, this verse clearly implies that there is a definite possibility that our names can be erased, or blotted out of the book.  Just as Jehovah was in charge of blotting out names in the Old Testament, Jesus is now in charge of blotting out names.

 

So, to keep our names in the book of life requires being an overcomer.  The question, then, is how to be an overcomer.

 

Revelation 13:8 says,

“whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” 

 

Revelation 17:8 says,

“whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world.” 

 

These verses seem to indicate that all the names were indeed written in the book of life from the foundation of the earth.  As David indicated in Psalms 139:14-16, it is clear that people’s names are not written in the book of life as a result of anything they do.  Rather, their names were written in the book of life before they were ever born, from the very foundation of the world!

 

This changes the common understanding of salvation.  John 1:4 says,

In him was life; and the life was the light of men,” and John 1:9 adds, “That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” 

 

In other words we are saved when we are born!  We do not have to “be saved” since we are already saved.  The question, indeed, is how to retain that salvation, and the answer is to be an overcomer.

 

Revelation 20:12 is the next scripture which mentions the book of life. 

“And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.” 

 

According to the previous verse (20:11), this refers to the great white throne judgment.  Those who enter the kingdom, the overcomers, will rule and reign with Jesus during the 1,000 years.  Those who did not enter the kingdom—the non-overcomers—will spend the 1,000 years in outer darkness, and their works will be judged at the great white throne judgment. 

 

Revelation 20:15 says,

“And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”  Revelation 21:27 says, “And there shall in no wise enter into it (the new Jerusalem) any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” 

 

These two verses show the destination of those whose names are not written in the book of life.  Here, again, are the positive (name in book) and negative (name not in book) aspects.  Those judged unworthy will be cast into the lake of fire, another symbol whose meaning must be discerned.

 

In his book, The Apocalypse of Revelation, Fred Kenison states that the lake of fire symbolizes the glorified saints (overcomers), for the purpose of restoration.  Being in the lake of fire means being in the midst of the saints.  He points out that everyone will finally be where Jesus died to bring them: in the presence of God, in the lake of fire and brimstone.  Remember, God was reconciling the world unto himself through Christ.  Now, they are finally there, and heaven and hell are united. 

 

Kenison points out that being in the presence of God will be the “heaven” the saints have yearned for, but it will also be “hell” to the wicked.  The location is the same, but the result is different.  The chasm in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-26), he says, was not a chasm of space, but of condition.  The blessed cannot change their blessed condition, and except by the further grace of God, neither can the wicked change their condition.  The scripture are fuzzy about the details of God’s plans after the kingdom age, but he does say that at some point all will be conformed to the image of his son.

 

The final mention of the book of life occurs in Revelation 22:19 which indicates the penalty for altering what John wrote. 

“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, and from the things which are written in this book.”

 

Some writers present additional possibilities concerning this book of God.  The intent of a book is to transfer information to readers.  An author puts information into a book, and intends that other people will read that information and benefit from it. 

 

J. Preston Eby, writing on the book of life, notes that a correct translation would be “the book of the life of the lamb.”  He suggests that God has been writing portions of his book in the minds and hearts of his people, and that each person is a different chapter in the book.  This brings us back to David’s point about the law being written on his heart. 

 

This idea of a law written on people’s hearts is also found in Hebrews 8:10: 

“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people.” 

 

In II Corinthians 3:2-3, Paul wrote: 

“Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men:  Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.”  

 

Jesus said,

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven (Matthew 5:16).  

 

In other words, we should be the “book” that people read to learn about God.

 

I Peter 2:9-10 says,

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”  

 

Witnessing is not simply a case of telling people about God, but of actually reflecting God.

 

These comments about the book being written within the hearts of people is also borne out in Hebrews 8:11-13,  Luke 17:20-21, and Ezekiel 36:26-28.  The point that Eby is making is that the overcomers are the book of life, a “book” God has written manifestly for other people to “read.”  This is most likely an important part of the ruling and reigning which the overcomers will do as the body of Christ during the kingdom age.

 

Clearly, the book of life has been used symbolically in the scriptures.  The following comparison indicates what the scriptures literally said and what they mean.  Why use the symbol of a book?  Probably to help us understand the concepts involved.  For some people, it is no doubt frightening to know that God has everything recorded in a book; for others this is something very reassuring.

 

What scripture says

What scripture means

There is a book.

Not an actual book, but all the information about us, with nothing lost or invisible.

 

The book is called the book of life.

Emphasizing the spiritually alive, as opposed to the spiritually dead.

 

The book refers to those who will enter into God’s righteousness, or the kingdom.

This is the group of overcomers who will enter the kingdom, to rule and reign with Christ.

 

Names were written in the book before the foundation of the earth.

The names of all people were added before the world began, indicating that all people start with salvation.

 

Jesus is in charge of erasing names.

Jesus judges who enters the kingdom.  All names start in the book, but some are erased.  All people start with the right to enter the kingdom, but not all retain that right.  To retain your name in the book requires yielding or  submitting to God’s guiding spirit.

 

Those whose names are not in the book will wind up in the lake of fire.

This will be a time of instruction and restoration during and after the kingdom age.

 

 

 

The book of life is a microcosm of the salvation message.  Unfortunately, the organized church has marginalized the book of life message.  Being an overcomer has been replaced by a simple acceptance of Jesus as personal savior.  The kingdom has been replaced by a trivial heaven. 

 

Given the book of life message, our task should not be trying to get God to accept us.  He has already done that.  Rather, our task should be to retain that acceptance so our names will not be erased from the book of life.  Ironically, we do this best when we stop striving to please God, and simply yield ourselves to God, allowing him to use us.  So simple, and yet so difficult.

 

Only the righteous will enter the kingdom, and we cannot do anything to make ourselves righteous; only God can do that.  Striving to make ourselves acceptable to God is futile, and actually brings about separation from God.  The key is to accept what God has already done, to stop our striving, and to turn ourselves over to him.  As we do so, holy spirit will develop within us, and we will be able to do all that God requires of us.

All people have salvation at birth (salvation past), as a result of what Jesus accomplished.  Salvation is the right to enter the kingdom of God in a place of blessing.  The question is not how to achieve salvation, but how to retain the salvation we already have.  

 

Our names were written in the book of life before the foundation of the world, enabling our entry to the kingdom; however, our names can also be blotted out.  Retaining our salvation (salvation present) requires yielding ourselves to God and submitting to the guidance of holy spirit. 

 

As we yield to the guidance of holy spirit, God works through us (salvation present) to produce righteous works, which will enable us to enter the kingdom (salvation future).

 

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August 2009

 

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