Who’s In the “Book of Life?”
The short answer is: every human being… for a time. How can this be? For answers, let’s dig a little deeper.
Wait a minute! You can’t be serious! Yes, I am. Let me explain.
First, let’s look at the eighteen references to this “Book of Life.” Actually, it is named eight times in Revelation, and once in Philippians. The other nine references are implied, rather than being explicitly named.
Let’s quickly look at each briefly, and see if we can unravel this conundrum.
• Exodus 32:32-33 “…I will blot him out of my book… God is speaking to Moses, who is pleading to take him (Moses) out of God’s book, as atonement for the Israelites who had made a golden calf to worship. God’s answer is to say that “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book.”
• Deuteronomy 29:20 “…and the Lord would blot his name from under heaven.” This seems to refer to the same kind of situation as in Exodus, as it is directed against any Israelite sinning against God by turning away from God.
• Okay, let’s stop and think about what we see: 1) A person starts out “in the Book,” and is blotted out by rejecting God. Now let’s proceed.
• Psalm 69:28 “Let them be blotted out of the book of the living and not be written with the righteous.” This is again directed against those rebelling against God.
• Psalm 139:16 “And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me…” Here, David is indicating that his life was inscribed in God’s book, even before David existed.
• Daniel 12:2 “And at that time your people shall be delivered, every one who is found written in the book.” This refers to the mass resurrection of all Jews at the end of the Great Tribulation period. Two groups are resurrected: the righteous at this time, and the unrighteous at the Great White Throne judgment. So, as in Psalm 39, the righteous are in the book, and evidently the unrighteous are not. Yet, the earlier passages indicate that once the unrighteous must have been in the book, and then cast out.
• Malachi 3:16 “So a book of remembrance was written before Him…” This is a bit more oblique, but reinforces the idea that the “righteous” are in this book, and it has great significance.
• Luke 10:20 “…rejoice because your names are written in heaven…” Again, somewhat oblique, but speaks of believers in the days of Jesus’ walk on this earth.
• Philippians 4:3 “…my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life.” This is the first direct use of “Book of Life,” and again refers to New Testament believers.
• Hebrews 12:23 “…who are registered in heaven…” Presumably, this refers to the Book of Life, and applies to believers
• Revelation 3:5; 5:1ff; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27; and 22:19 all refer explicitly to the Book of Life, except for 5:1. All use terms like “blot out,” “not written in,” or “taken away.” I called up the earlier Old Testament passages to lend clarity to these passages.
Collectively, these seem to indicate that, at one time, all (believers and unbelievers) were in the book, and that unbelievers are later taken out of the Book of Life. But, how can this be?
Easy. The Lord Jesus Christ died for all men. (Sorry, Limited Atonement folks, bear with me a bit.) His death dealt with all the sins of all mankind. Check out these passages for yourself:
John 3:16; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21; Hebrews 8:12,26; 9:10,12. There are others, but these should give us the idea that Christ died for all sins. In fact, at the final judgment (Rev. 20:11-15), men are judged for their WORKS, not their sins. Here, the unbelievers have their day in court – an opportunity to show their “good” works that demonstrate their perfection. Of course, they will all fail and be consigned to the Lake of Fire. But, why does this passage say “works,” and not “sins?” Because Christ has already dealt with their sins and God is reconciled to the whole world (2 Cor. 5). Perfection is the only thing allowed in the presence of God, and they don’t have it, no matter what they may have done (see Matthew 7:21-23).
So, what am I saying? That Jesus died for the sins of all men, in order to reconcile the world to God. And this was planned before the foundation of the world, so everyone was originally inscribed in the Book of Life, but not all men were or are willing to live under and with God. These will be blotted out of the Book of Life, based on the testimony of their “good works.” These works, as Jesus declares in Matthew 7, are inadequate, for He says, “I never knew you.” There was no personal connection with God or Jesus Christ, and therefore they have no right to “life,” only an eternal existence separated from God.
How does one get blotted out from the Book of Life at the Great White Throne Judgment? He or she lacks any relationship to God. Some may shake their fists at God (Psalm 2), others may indignantly turn back to false idols (Jeremiah 44:15-19). Others just simply live their lives ignoring God’s commands (as Adam and Eve did in the Garden). The Hebrew have three terms for sin: one means to “miss the mark,” another means “to twist,” and the third denotes “deliberate, willful rebellion.” That’s how unbelievers live, in whatever era – simply careless and neglectful, or twisting the Word to justify their behavior, or demonstrating outright rebellion against God. Usually, these are progressive (regressive?) steps, one leading to another.
We certainly see all aspects of this in our culture today. All of us believers have failed in one or more of these stages at times. But the difference is that we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ – thus, we enter a perfect Heaven in the perfection of Christ. And, because we have a personal fellowship with God through Jesus Christ (1 John 1:3-4). We, too, will experience a judgment – for our works which we have done in Christ’s name – this occurs at the Bema Seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:9-10). We are not judged there for our sins, either, for these were dealt with by Jesus on the cross at Calvary.
For me, at least, this suggests some answers to various questions and objections often raised, such as “what about children who die before the ‘age of accountability.’” And, what about those mentally unable to comprehend the Gospel?” The answer is simple: God has them in the Book of Life because of Jesus’ substitutionary atonement, and there is no reason to remove them from it. The idea of an “age of accountability” was fabricated (it’s not in the Bible) in order to “help God out” by giving Him a way out of an apparent dilemma. It is unnecessary. And this is why David could say of his dead son, “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.” (2 Samuel 12:15-23).
There’s much more we could say, but I’ll leave that to you. I think, if you find this to be correct, that it will clear up other issues and problems we Christians often wrestle with. Let me know what you think.