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Note: This blog post is part of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Revelation." To view all parts, click the link below.
When God summons all of the dead at the last resurrection, Revelation 20:12 says that “books were opened” to judge humanity. The same verse says further, “the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.” Some have speculated that these “books” were the records of all their deeds during their life on earth. We are not told, but every court of law judges men by the standard of the law of the land. Hence, it is more likely that these “books” are the books of the divine law. Even so, there are certainly records of men’s deeds presented in the divine court. As long as we do not ignore one or the other, we cannot go far astray in interpreting the nature of the “books.”
The Book of Life
There is also another book in this divine courtroom. Revelation 20:12 says, “and another book was opened, which is the book of life.” Of this book, we are only told in verse 15,
15 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, then, contains the names of those who will not be judged in “the lake of fire,” which, as we will show later, is long-term slavery according to biblical justice. The very presence of the book of life shows that some of those summoned will indeed be found written in this book and will escape the lake of fire. In other words, many believers will stand in this judgment, as Jesus claimed in John 5:28, 29.
This book of life was mentioned in Exodus 32:31-33 as Moses interceded for Israel after they had worshiped the golden calf.
31 Then Moses returned to the Lord, and said, “Alas, this people has committed a great sin, and they have made a god of gold for themselves. 32 But now, if Thou wilt, forgive their sin—and if not, please blot me out from Thy book which Thou hast written!” 33 And the Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book.”
No doubt this is the same book that John calls “the book of life.” It is a book of names, not of deeds, and the names are compiled by God Himself. God even calls it “My book.” Names are recorded and blotted out according to His will. But He refused to blot out Moses’ name from the book, for He is a just God and holds each person accountable for to his own deeds.
What many fail to realize is that Israel was “the church in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38 KJV), and that even though all of them had been justified by faith in the blood of the Passover lamb, yet (presumably) they were blotted out of God’s book when they worshiped the golden calf. By extension, the New Testament believers might also be blotted out of God’s book—even after they have been justified by the blood of the true Lamb of God.
Of course, Scripture says nowhere that this is a permanent condition. If names may be blotted out, they may also be written and rewritten into the book. No doubt repentance carries much weight in this matter. Perhaps the more important element is in God’s statement: “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book.” This implies that sin (such as idolatry) can potentially result in one’s name being blotted out of the book.
Names Blotted from the Book of Life
The problem is that “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23) and that even believers continue to “fall short of the glory of God.” How many believers have cast down everything that has exalted itself against God? How many have brought every thought into captivity (2 Corinthians 10:5)? Are their names written in the book of life, only to be erased each day until they repent of each sin?
Many have been taught this throughout the centuries, particularly in the Roman church. The result is that such believers can never truly know that they are saved, because their salvation constantly hangs on a thread. If they die with some unconfessed sin in their life, they are consigned to the fires of hell or purgatory.
Yet John himself tells us in 1 John 5:13,
13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life [i.e., aionian life].
How could anyone truly know with confidence that they have attained aionian life? Such confidence would be impossible, for believers would never truly know if they had confessed every sin. It is only possible to confess those sins that we remember, or those actions and thoughts that we believe to be sinful. Yet until we learn the law, our culture is our standard, and so we often sin without realizing it.
The answer to all of this uncertainty is found mainly in Romans 4, which is where Paul expounds on imputed righteousness. To those who have faith in Christ, God imputes or reckons (logizomai) the righteousness of Christ. The result is that God calls what is not as though it were (Romans 4:17 KJV). Even as God imputed many nations to Abraham while he had no children at all, so also does God impute righteousness to us while we have none in ourselves.
In other words, if our faith is truly in Christ, rather than in the church or any other idol, God imputes righteousness to us so that we can be assured that we have aionian life here and now. This righteousness is continuous, and God needs no eraser or ink blotter to update our record in His book of life.
But if our faith is misplaced, then we are treated accordingly in the divine court. When men obey men rather than God, or when men’s faith rests in their own promise to God, or when their faith depends upon their church covering or upon their status as members of the earthly organization which they consider to be “the church,” they are then judged as if their faith is in men. Every time they sin, their names are blotted out of the book of life—if, indeed, their names were ever written in that book.
The Faith and Works of an Overcomer
This faith issue lies at the heart of what it means to be an overcomer who is qualified to reign with Christ over others. An overcomer, among other things, has faith in Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. His faith is imputed to him as righteousness. His faith is based on the New Covenant, not upon the Old Covenant. In other words, his faith is in the promise of God to men, not in the promises of men to God, as Paul says about Abraham in Romans 4:21, 22,
21 and being fully assured that what He had promised, He was able also to perform. 22 Therefore also it was reckoned [imputed] to him as righteousness.
Just as Abraham’s faith gave him assurance that God was able to fulfill His promise, so also does our faith in Christ give us the same confidence, for Romans 4:23, 24 says,
23 Now not for his sake only was it written, that it was reckoned [imputed] to him, 24 but for our sake also, to whom it will be reckoned [imputed], as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.
Those who truly have faith in Jesus Christ are led by the Spirit—that is, they are obedient to God and His law. (Whatever God commands, written or verbalized, is a law.) But learning obedience is a Pentecostal process. No one is perfectly obedient until the law is fully written on his heart, at which time his obedience is replaced by agreement through the feast of Tabernacles. Yet even while we learn obedience, we enjoy imputed righteousness, so that we do not need to question our salvation while we are yet imperfect. Our faith is not in ourselves, our good intentions, or in our ability to keep our own vows to God, but in God’s intent and ability to perfect us by the Holy Spirit’s work within our hearts over a period of time.
To put it another way, the first work of Christ, pictured in the first goat in Leviticus 16, atones or covers our sin. The second goat removes our sin, and this is fulfilled in Christ’s second coming. Having our sins covered is the essential feature of imputed righteousness, which we receive through Passover. The removal of sin “to a solitary land” (Leviticus 16:22), that is, away from people, replaces imputed righteousness with infused righteousness.
The overcomers go through the same process of purification and refinement that is common to all believers. They have genuine faith in Christ, rather than in themselves, as Paul says, but they also submit to the Holy Spirit in order to learn obedience. Obedience is the outworking of their faith, as James tells us. Most Christians are caught somewhere between faith and obedience, and only God Himself is truly capable of discerning and judging the thoughts and intents of the heart.
Nonetheless, it is clear that the first resurrection is for overcomers, not for believers in general. The general resurrection is for believers whose names are written in the book of life, as well as for unbelievers whose names are not found in that book. Divine rewards and judgments are meted out according to men’s works or deeds, as the law prescribes.
The Book of Remembrance
Malachi 3:16, 17 says,
16 Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who esteem His name. 17 “And they will be Mine,” says the Lord of hosts, “on the day that I prepare My own possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.”
What is this book and how does it differ from the book of life? The book of life is based upon Passover and Tabernacles, because it focuses upon imputed righteousness (Passover) and infused righteousness (Tabernacles). The book of remembrance appears to focus primarily upon Pentecost, because it is associated with those who are “My own possession,” a term used also in Exodus 19:5 when Israel stood at the foot of the mount. The KJV renders it “peculiar treasure” in Exodus 19:5 and “My jewels” in Malachi 3:17. In both cases, the Hebrew word segullah is used.
This was a promise of God as a reward for obedience. This promise occurred at Sinai, where God came down as fire and spoke the Ten Commandments. It was the day thereafter observed and revered as Shavuot, or Pentecost. It appears, then, that the book of remembrance has to do with the obedient ones and not merely those who are justified by faith. True Pentecostals are those who “hear and obey” (shema) when God asks them to ascend the mount into the fire of God. The Israelites were afraid and refused in Exodus 20:21, but the 120 disciples in the book of Acts ascended to the upper room to meet with God and to receive the baptism of fire.
God’s peculiar treasure—that God claims as His own possession—are those who go beyond simple Passover faith. They are those who are unafraid of the baptism of fire. They hear His voice and obey, and the Holy Spirit then begins to write the law in their hearts, teaching them obedience until they come fully into agreement with the nature and character of Christ.
Remembrance is a legal word in the Hebrew perspective. When men repent, God remembers His covenant. It is not that God has trouble remembering anything. Rather, it indicates that the covenant is brought up and lawfully claimed in the court of law. So Leviticus 26:40-42 says, “If they confess their iniquity… then I will remember My covenant… and I will remember the land.”
The requirement for such remembrance is confession of iniquity. The book of remembrance, then, contains the names of those who admit their iniquity and submit to the baptism of fire, so that all chaff may be consumed by the all-consuming fire of God’s presence. Hence, we ought not to follow Israel’s example of refusing to hear His voice, for they shrank from His fire. They rejected the fire of Pentecost, thereby causing God to (legally) forget His New Covenant vows to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Israel remained under the Old Covenant for another 1480 years.
Because so many believers have been fearful of entering the fire of God as true Pentecostals, they will have to experience some level of fire at the Great White Throne before they are given the reward of immortality. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:15, they will be “saved yet so as through fire.” It is better to go through the divine fire now, rather than wait until later.
Note: This blog post is part of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Revelation." To view all parts, click the link below.