The Study of Last Things
"And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire."
The Book of Life
There exists a book of life, referenced in Phil. 4:3; Rev. 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27. In this book of life there have evidently been inscribed all the names of believers down through the ages.
1. The Apostle Paul, in writing to a fellow worker in the city of Philippi (Phil. 4:3), asks him to help two women, Euodia and Syntyche, in their efforts to live in harmony together in the Lord (Phil. 4:2). Despite their imperfection, their zeal in serving Jesus is unquestionable. They, along with Clement and others of Paul’s fellow-workers, he asserts, are to be found in a book of life.
2. The Lord Jesus, quoted by the Apostle John, in Rev. 3:5, refers to the same book in very specific terms. He calls it literally, “the book of the life.” What did Jesus mean when He said, “He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and His angels?”
a. "The Book of Deeds and the Book of Life are distinguished in Rev 20:12 . . . . The motif of having one's name erased from, or blotted out of, the Book of Life is a metaphor for judgment (Exod 32:32-33; Ps 69:27-28; . . .), based on the notion of expulsion or disenfranchisement from the record of citizenship. Originally, however, to be blotted out of the Book of Life meant 'to die' (Exod 32:32-33; Ps 69:27-28; Isa 4:3)" (David E. Aune, Revelation 1-5, p. 224, quoted by Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2007 Edition, p. 35).
b. WordExplain takes the position that a genuine believer (not someone who merely purports to be a Christian) cannot lose his salvation. There are too many Scriptures which take this position to say otherwise (John 3:16; 3:36; 5:24; 10:27-29; Rom. 8:1; 28-39). At first glance, Rev. 3:5 may seem to contradict this position. So how does one interpret Rev. 3:5? Bible scholars have endeavored to resolve the difficulty. One possibility is that all those who live have their names written in the book of life. When they die without trusting in Christ, their names are expunged (see John F. Walvoord, The Revelation Of Jesus Christ, p.82; see also Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, 2:577-78).
c. It is better to understand the Book of Life as a permanent record, recorded in heaven, of all who would one day trust in God and Jesus. There is a promise made in Rev. 3:5 to the one overcoming, or conquering. This is not a threat to a believer's eternal security. Eternal life (John 3:16) is by definition that which endures into the ages. Overcoming is, by God-inspired statement, a trait of those who are born of God by believing that Jesus is the Son of God (1 John 5:4-5). Those who are genuinely believers (not merely those who profess to believe but do not) will persevere in their faith (John 10:27-29; Romans 8:28-30). Rev. 3:5 is an encouragement to Christians to keep conquering sin and fleshliness in their Christian lives. There are many “warning” passages to believers in the Scriptures (e.g., Phil. 2:12; Heb. 6:4-8; Heb. 10:26-31). The underlying assumption is, however, that genuine believers, as opposed to those who are merely professing believers (Matt. 7:15-23; 25:1-12), will respond to the warnings and go on with Christ, maturing in Him (Phil. 2:13; Heb. 6:1, 9-12; 10:32-39).
d. Remember that Jesus indicted the church at large of Sardis as being dead (Rev. 3:1), needing to wake up (Rev. 3:2-3) and repent (Rev. 3:3). It was only a small number in Sardis who were worthy to walk with Jesus in white (Rev. 3:4). Presumably the rest were not even believers. Merely attending a fellowship carries no guarantee whatever. Once one has become a believer, it takes work and effort to conquer the world, the flesh and the devil, the three major opponents in a believer’s life. Believers will conquer the world (1 John 5:4-5). Saints will persevere.
e. So rather than being a statement about the insecurity of the believer, Rev. 3:5 is a statement about the believer’s security. Those who are “born again” Christians (John 1:12-13; 3:1-8, 14-18, 21; 1 John 5:1-5) are by definition overcomers, or conquerors. Jesus confirms their security by stating that He will not erase their names from the Book of Life.
3. Rev. 13:8, as recorded in the New American Standard Bible (NASB), reads as follows: “All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb of the Lamb who has been slain.”
a. This means that, during the Tribulation period, all the earth’s inhabitants will worship the beastly World Ruler (Antichrist) with the exception of those whose names have been recorded in the Lamb’s Book of Life. That much is rather straightforward. But the question arises, when were the believers’ names recorded? The difficulty is illustrated by the contrasting translation of Rev. 13:8 in the New International Version (NIV), referring to “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.” The footnote at the bottom gives the alternative translation that NASB has used.
b. Here is a complete literal rendering of Rev. 13:8: “And will worship him, all the ones dwelling upon the earth, the name of whom has not been written in the book of the life of the lamb – the one having been slain from foundation of world (author’s literal translation).” As the reader can perceive, there is a translational difficulty. Does the phrase “from foundation of world” modify the word “slain” or the word “written?” Either translation is grammatically possible.
c. It is possible to argue that, from God’s standpoint, Jesus existed as a slain Lamb from the beginning of creation. We know that time is different for God than it is for us humans (2 Pet. 3:8).
d. On the other hand, the editors of NASB, in arriving at their translation, have, I believe, made a theologically correct decision. As a matter of fact, Jesus was not slain from the beginning of the creation, but at a point in time well after the beginning of creation. It is theologically correct to understand that believers’ names have been written in the Lamb’s book of life from the creation of the world. Other Scriptures confirm that reality (Eph. 1:4-5; 2:10; 2 Thess. 2:13).
e. According to Rev. 13:8, God apparently has a book of life in which have been written, from the foundation of the world, the names of all those who will eventually trust in Him, and, after the coming of Christ, trust in Him (Jesus). This is election, pure and simple. There will be some in the Tribulation who are not yet believers. But they will not worship the beast (the Antichrist who for a time rules the world), for their names are written in the Book of Life. At the proper moment, they will trust in Jesus, demonstrating their prior election. Everyone whose name is not written in the Lamb's Book of Life will worship this evil ruler.
4. Rev. 17:8 reaffirms that every person dwelling upon the earth during the Tribulation period will be amazed at a powerful world ruler who “was and is not and will come.”
a. The Old Testament speaks of this powerful ruler who will emerge from a revived Roman Empire (Dan. 9:26-27) during the first half of the seven-year Tribulation period. At the mid-point of the seven year period, he will be assassinated, then evidently raised from the dead. This will stun most humans on earth, influencing them to follow him and worship both the leader and the devil who empowers him (Rev. 13:3-4; 17:8). When he comes back to life, he will be inhabited by a powerful demon who arises out of the Abyss (Rev. 11:7; 17:8). The Abyss, sometimes called “bottomless pit,” is a place where certain demons are temporarily confined pending a future diabolic task on earth or final judgment (Luke 8:31; Rev. 9:1-2, 11; 11:7; 17:8; 20:1-3). Apparently this evil world ruler is inspired and energized by a demon who comes up out of the abyss. It is due to this Satanic power that the beast and his false prophet are able to perform miracles that deceive the world (2 Thess. 2:9; Rev. 13:13-15).Though men will admire and stand in awe of this powerful ruler, God’s view of him is that he is a ravenous beast, so described in Dan. 7:7, 19, 23; Rev. 11:7; 13:1-2; 17:3, 7. Empowered by Satan, he will break out of the confines of the revived Roman Empire and will rule the entire world for the last three and a half years of the Tribulation period (Dan. 7:23; Rev. 13:5-7).
b. We have already learned that all those who dwell on the earth will worship this ruler – all except those whose names have “been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the lamb who has been slain (Rev. 13:8).” This is confirmed again in Rev. 17:8, where an angel (Rev. 17:1) explains to John that earth dwellers whose names have not been recorded in the book of life from the foundation of the cosmos will be amazed “when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come (Rev. 17:8).” A number of Bible scholars interpret this amazement as stemming from a Roman Empire that existed during John’s day, ceased to exist, but that will be resurrected in the end times. I believe a revived Roman empire will exist in the end times, but why will that be particularly amazing? The European Union is, I believe, a part of, or a forerunner of the northern portion of that yet-to-be-revived Roman Empire. But people today are not particularly amazed at the European Union, even though it has united nations in Europe previously at great odds with one another for centuries. It makes more sense to me to relate this amazement to Rev. 13:3, where John states that he saw one of the beast’s heads “as if it had been slain, and his fatal wound was healed. And the whole world was amazed and followed after the beast.” Somehow, it appears, the world ruler is assassinated and is miraculously raised back to life. That would be sufficient to account for the amazement in both Rev. 13:3 and Rev. 17:8.
c. The point of Rev. 17:8 is that all those whose names have not been previously recorded in the Book of Life will be deluded and persuaded by and attracted to this world ruler, whose power source comes from the Abyss. Those whose names have been recorded in the Book of Life will see through his evil persona and schemes, and will find him repelling and repugnant.
d. One final observation on this Scripture. The name of a person is not recorded in the Book of Life when he places his trust in Jesus. Rather, his name was recorded at some time in eternity past even before the world and universe were created. At a point in time, a person whose name was recorded in the Book of Life in eternity past will trust in Jesus. Was the person’s name recorded in the Book of Life in anticipation of his subsequent belief in Jesus? Or did the person trust in Jesus because his name had been recorded in the Book of Life? Examining other passages of Scripture, the latter seems to be the correct answer to the question. For additional information on this perspective, click here.
5. In Rev. 20:12 the unbelieving dead of all the ages stand before a Great White Throne, where Jesus presides as Judge (Rev. 20:11). The dead are judged according to their deeds as recorded in certain books (Rev. 20:12). A different kind of book also appears at this judgment. It is the Book of Life, literally, the book of the life. This verse does not tell us the significance of the Book of Life, but the next verse in which it appears does.
6. Rev. 20:15 ends the discussion of the Great White Throne Judgment. In the most somber of tones, John records what he witnessed: “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” Sadly, it appears, all those who appear at this final resurrection will be consigned to the Lake of Fire. Otherwise, they would have participated in the First Resurrection (Rev. 20:4-6). The Lake of Fire appears more than once in the book of Revelation.
a. The Beast who deceived the world and set himself up as (the False) Messiah (Antichrist), along with his spokesman, the False Prophet, had been cast alive into the Lake of Fire at Christ’s Return to Earth (Rev. 19:20). There the place of torment was described as “the lake of fire which burns with brimstone.” Brimstone is sulfur, which has an extremely low flash point. Burning sulfur produces an acrid smell that both irritates the nostrils and emits a highly offensive, “rotten eggs” smell. The whole experience will be both offensive and unbearably painful.
b. A thousand years later, after the Millennium has ended with man’s Final Revolt against God inspired by Satan, the Devil himself will be cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:10). We are told that, a thousand years later, the Beast and the False Prophet are still in the Lake of Fire. They have not been consumed. The statement ends with the ominous words, “and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” Not only is the Lake of Fire offensive and unbearably painful, but it is also eternal. There will never be any relief!
c. We also read that both Death and Hades, the temporary receptacle for the unbelieving dead, are cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:14). The whole place will reek of death for the Lake of Fire is the Second Death. Physical Death is an enormous enemy, but there is a cure – Resurrection to Life. If one is not included in the Resurrection to Life, he is inevitably destined for Resurrection to Death – the Second Death. Unbelievers in resurrected bodies that will never decay will spend a horrible eternity in hell, the Lake of Fire, always being consumed but never being burned up.
d. In the final reference to the Lake of Fire in the Bible, we are told the sorts of people who will populate that ghastly place. It will be the cowardly,, the unbelieving, the abominable, murderers, immoral persons, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars (Rev. 21:8). There will be no good people in hell. There will be no good in hell. There will be no such thing as friendship or loyalty or support in hell. It will be a ghastly, selfish existence. The eternal portion of all these people will be “in the Lake that burns with Fire and Brimstone, which is the Second Death.”
7. We conclude this discussion with a question of monumental significance: How do I know if my name has been recorded in the Lamb’s Book of Life? If the only alternative to having my name in the Book of Life is an eternity in hell, HOW CAN I MAKE SURE MY NAME HAS BEEN RECORDED IN THE BOOK OF LIFE???
a. If you want your name in the Book of Life, you must stop trying to work your way to life. We are all DEAD spiritually (Eph. 2:1-3), and no dead man can work himself into life.
b. Jesus, the true Messiah, said this, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6). Jesus is the source of life. He is LIFE personified. If you want to be connected to God and escape hell, you must come to God through Jesus. He is the perfect sacrifice, the Lamb of God who died to pay for your sins (John 1:29; Rom. 5:8; 1 Cor. 15:1-3). God raised Him up from the dead (Matt. 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-49; John 20:1-29; 1 Cor. 15:3-8). Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. Every person who believes in Jesus will live even if he dies (John 11:25-26). If you want your name in the Book of Life, trust in Jesus, not yourself or some other alternative.
c. The Book of Life, which confirms salvation, is accessible to anyone and everyone who wishes to trust in Jesus and does so (Isa. 55:1; Matt. 11:28-30; John 1:11-13; 3:14-18; Rev. 21:6; 22:17). Will you trust in Him?
This study is based on, and the upcoming links will reference the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE 1995 ®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.
(Scripture quotations taken from the NASB 1995. Used by Permission.)
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Updated February 13, 2022