The book of life
by Timothy Cross
An envelope arrived on my mat recently containing a form for me to sign. If I hadn’t signed it my name would have been omitted from the electoral roll and I would not have been eligible to vote.
Of course, if you don’t vote you can’t complain! So, without further ado, I signed the form and posted it off in its prepaid envelope.
Did you know that Almighty God has a list of the names of those who are eternally saved? Evidence for the existence of this list is found throughout the Scriptures.
The Lord Jesus told his disciples, ‘Rejoice that your names are written in heaven’ (Luke 10:20). Paul wrote of ‘Clement and the rest of my fellow workers whose names are in the book of life’ (Philippians 4:8). Hebrews 12:23 speaks of ‘the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven’.
And the book of Revelation contains seven references to names written in ‘the book of life’. Revelation 20:15, for instance, reads formidably: ‘if any one’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire’, while 21:17, describing the glorious city of God, declares that ‘nothing unclean shall enter it … but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life’.
Registered in heaven
What then do these verses mean? The Bible, remember, was written in an Eastern setting somewhat removed from our own. One writer explains that in the ancient world:
‘It was customary to have registers of citizenship, in which were entered the names of citizens, both natural and adopted. Heaven is represented as a city, and its inhabitants are registered. Some, who have not yet reached the city, are regarded as citizens on their way home. Their names are registered with the others’ (James Freeman inManners and customs of the Bible).
The ‘book of life’, then, is the roster of believers in all ages. If we truly belong to Jesus Christ our names are written in heaven, for he alone bestows the gift of eternal life -‘the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 6:23).
One commentator elucidates as follows: ‘This “book of life” … is the register of the kingdom of heaven, wherein are enrolled the names of all the elect … For the Scripture, employing frequently things of earth in order to represent to our minds the things of heaven, compares the list of the people of God, whom he has chosen from eternity and marked as his elect, to a register in which the names of all the citizens of a town are enrolled.
‘I confess that to us this book is shut up and sealed. God knows those that are his but will not manifest them fully until that day when the books shall be opened … But meanwhile we may judge … with modesty and charity, by the actions of men, and hold … as citizens of the new Jerusalem, truly enrolled in its register, those who display in their lives the marks of divine adoption – such as faith, obedience, love, holiness, perseverance and other graces’ (G. B. Wilson inRevelation).
Ordained to eternal life
God alone decides whose names are written in this book – salvation is his sole prerogative. And yet, all who believe in Jesus can be sure that their names are written there! For those chosen by God in eternity past will surely and certainly come to faith in Christ in time.
They will spend eternity in God’s heavenly city, saved by his grace. Acts 13:48 says, ‘as many as were ordained to eternal life believed’. All who are enrolled for eternal salvation shall, in due time, come to repentance and faith in Christ.
Christ and him crucified
Notice how Revelation 13:8 describes the heavenly register as ‘the book of life of the Lamb that was slain’. The book lists the redeemed, for a slain lamb speaks of redemption.
The Israelites were redeemed from slavery in Egypt because an innocent lamb was slain and its blood applied. John 1:29 proclaims that the Lord Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Calvary is central to the gospel revelation and the saving purposes of God. He has his elect for sure. Yet these elect will only dwell with God in heaven because he sent his Son to die for their sins and render them fit for the eternal city.
In his unthwartable purpose, God will irresistibly draw his elect to the cross of Christ and enable them to put their trust in the Lamb of Calvary who died to take away our sins.
Do you belong to Jesus? Are you numbered among those redeemed by the blood of the Lamb? Is your name written in the book of life?