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The Book of Life

Dr. Grant C. Richison


More than One Book of Life

The Bible records several different categories of divine records. Some refer to a list of names, some to events, and some to a record of deeds.

Here are two classifications:

1.    Book of physical life (Ex 32:32,33; Ps 69:28; Ezek 13:9; Da 12:1).

This book includes blotting out of some in the national community of Israel; this forfeits privileges in the theocracy. This book includes references to covenant blessings. Since the Mosaic Covenant promised blessings that included long life conditioned on obedience, a person would be blotted out of this blessing by disobedience to the covenant. Thus, the reference is not solely to physical life.

The government of Israel kept records of their population. These records were used for taxation, military duty, and property ownership. It was necessary to remove the names of people who died. The book was a record of those physically living.

2.    Book of eternal life.

Early references in the Bible refer to books of physical life and temporal blessing. Later references refer to slated for irrevocable covenantal blessings of eternal life (Re 3:5; 17:8; 20:15). Thus, there are two books of life, one of temporal covenantal blessing or divine blessing and the other of eternal blessing. One is a book of those registered for eternal life, and the other is not.

Revelation uses the phrase “book of life” six times. Once the reference is to the possibility of being blotted out of the Book of life (Re 3:5) and five times referring to one’s name at the final judgment (Re 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27).

Believers have their names permanently recorded in the Book of life. Some passages indicate that their names stand permanently in this Book. Tenses used in Luke 10:20 and Hebrews 12:23 specify that their status in this Book is a permanent state (perfect tense—completed action with abiding results). In Philippians 4:3, the tense is continual action (present participle) and indicates a permanent state.

Names Written in the Book

Names are never removed from the New Testament Book of life. Believers are identified by their names in the Book of life (Re 20:15; 21:27). God entered the names into the book from the foundation of the world (Re 17:8).

Names Never Blotted from the Book of Life

Not all names of humans were recorded in this book. Revelation 22:19 does not indicate that a believer can be blotted from the Book of life. Also, Greek manuscripts have the “tree of life,” not the “book of life.” Unbelievers who negate the authority of this book will be judged by the plagues of Revelation and have the offer of its blessing taken away. They will not have access to the tree of life. This tree symbolizes the availability of eternal life.

In Revelation 3:5, the “overcomer” is a true believer, not a professing person. An “overcomer” is not a special class of person. Revelation 2:11 indicates that the second death will not hurt the overcomer. This is true of all believers. The “second death” equates to being cast into the lake of fire (Re 20:14-15). An overcomer is simply a believer (1 Jn 5:4-5). Every Christian is an overcomer. Thus, Revelation 3:5 is a strong promise that denies any possibility of blotting a believer from the book of life. The Greek is a double negative (οὐ μὴ); this is not a threat but an emphatic promise that the overcomer will never, ever be blotted out of the book of eternal life.

The same emphatic negation is found in two other promises to overcomers. Revelation 2:11 says that the overcomer will “not be hurt whatsoever by the second death.” Revelation 3:12 promises each overcomer will become “a pillar in the temple of my God and he shall never go out of it.” Again, this is a double negative emphasizing the impossibility of losing one’s salvation.

Revelation 20:11-15 refers to the judgment of the unbelieving dead. Their names are not in the Book of life.

In Revelation 13:8 and 17:8, the words “has not been written” are in the Greek perfect tense. Non-believers exist in a completed past action with existing results. Non-Christians’ names are blotted out at death because they refused to believe in Christ. It was the Lamb whose death God ordained from the foundation of the earth (Acts 2:23; 1 Pe 1:20). The Greek reads whose names “do not stand written in the book of life of the Lamb, who was slain from the foundation of the world.”