|Thoughts on The Book of Life
“Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15).”
First, it will help to understand that the Israelites kept meticulous records of all who were born and especially of each family line. It was important for them to know which tribe a person belonged in. In general though the book recorded the names of the living and when they died the name was blotted out.
Note from this passage that Moses refers to a similar book that God kept. “Then Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Oh, these people have committed a great sin, and have made for themselves a god of gold! Yet now, if You will forgive their sin—but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written (Exodus 32:31-32).”
At the other end of the Bible Jesus makes another reference to that book. “He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels (Revelation 3:5).”
In both cases note that a person’s name is being blotted out of the book. Something happens. Basically their name is removed when they die, like the Israelites did, but God’s book is a register for heaven. (Hebrews 12:23 says, “to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven.”)
How does one die to God? It cannot simply be a matter of disobeying the Law or not living right, because the Bible is clear that all are sinners. That would leave no one for the book. One dies to God when he rejects the grace of God provided through Christ for the forgiveness of sins.
John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Jesus also said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life (John 5:24).” In other words, those who trust in Christ to forgive their sins never die. Therefore their name is never blotted out of the Book of Life (as seen in Rev 3:5 above).
Sometimes people are confused about the fact that God already knows the names of those written in the book (or not blotted out of it). This is based on God’s foreknowledge of what choice people will make toward God, not on choices God made about them. God did not create a mechanistic world with all things predetermined, but a world that is inhabited by people who can choose to accept or reject His love. Adam and Eve chose to sin. All people choose to sin. The question is whether they will accept their sinful condition – repent – and call on God.
“ . . . that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
In other words, call on God to forgive your sin in Christ and you will never be blotted out of His Book of Life.
Notes from Pulpit Commentary
I will in no wise blot out his name. The negative, as in vers. 3 and 12, is in the strongest form. Here we seem to have a figure borrowed from the custom of striking the names of the dead out of the list of citizens. But the figure is a very ancient one, as is seen from parallels in the Old Testament. The present passage, Ἐξαλειψω … ἐκ τῆς βίβλου τῆς ζωῆς, is singularly close to the LXX. of Ps. 69:28, Ἐξαλειφθήτωσαν ἐκ βίβλου ζώτων; and to Exod. 32:33, Ἐξαλείψω αὐτὸν ἐκτῆς βιβλου μου; comp. Ps. 109:13; Dan. 12:1; and for the exact expression, “the book of life,” see ch. 13:8; 17:8; 20:15; 21:27; and (without articles) Phil. 4:3, where Bishop Lightfoot comments as follows: “The ‘book of life’ in the figurative language of the Old Testament is the register of the covenant people (comp. Isa. 4:3; Ezek. 13:9). Hence ‘to be blotted out of the book of the living’ means ‘to forfeit the privileges of the theocracy, to be shut out from God’s favour.’ But the expression, though perhaps confined originally to temporal blessings, was in itself a witness to higher hopes; and in the Book of Daniel first it distinctly refers to a blessed immortality (comp. Hermas, ‘Vis.,’ i. 3; see also Luke 10:20; Heb. 12:23).” And I will confess his name. Without the smallest manuscript authority or any encouragement from previous versions, Latin, German, or English, the Genevan and Authorized Versions here render καί “but”! The simple connexion with “and” is thoroughly in St. John’s style: “He shall be … and I will … and I will” (comp. vers. 12, 17; ch. 2:26–28, etc.; John 1:4, 5, 10, 11, 14, etc.). This is the third of the promises: (1) he shall be in unsullied glory; (2) he shall never lose his heavenly citizenship; (3) he shall be publicly acknowledged as citizen by the Judge. This third point is a combination of Matt. 10:32 (“before my Father”) with Luke 12:8 (“before the angels of God”). “We may observe of this epistle that in great part it is woven together of sayings which the Lord had already uttered in the days during which he pitched his tent among men; he is now setting his seal from heaven upon his words uttered on earth” (Trench).1
Other Scriptures to consider:
Luke 10:20 – names written in heaven
Philippians 4:3 – fellow workers in Book of Life