A BIBLE STUDY BY FRED KENISON
The phrase “book of life” occurs only eight times in the Bible, and seven of them are in Revelation. In addition, there are four instances in the Old Testament that refer to God having a book.
This book of life has been the subject of many misleading ideas which are not scriptural. For example, evangelical preachers often use the book of life with an emotional appeal, urging people to accept Jesus as their personal savior so their names will be written in the book of life and they will go to heaven when they die. Of course, there are several things wrong with this. For instance, there is no place in the scriptures which tells people to accept Jesus as their personal savior, to ask him to come into their hearts and save them. Neither is there any place in scripture which says that if they do, their names will then be written in the book of life.
The first mention of God having a book in which names were retained or blotted out, is found in Exodus 32:30-34. “And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses said unto the people, Ye have sinned a great sin: and now I will go up unto the Lord; peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin. And Moses returned unto the Lord, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin--; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written. And the Lord said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book. Therefore now go, lead the people unto the place of which I have spoken unto thee: behold, mine Angel shall go before thee: nevertheless in the day when I visit I will visit their sin upon them.” [Note: All verses quoted are from the KJV.]
There is no mention of when or how names are written in the book, only that God has such a book and that he reserves the right to blot out the names of those who sin against him.
The next mention of a book is in Psalms 69:21-28: “They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink. Let their table become a snare before them: and that which should have been for their welfare, let it become a trap. Let their eyes be darkened, that they see not; and make their loins continually to shake. Pour out thine indignation upon them, and let thy wrathful anger take hold of them. Let their habitation be desolate; and let none dwell in their tents. For they persecute him whom thou hast smitten; and they talk to the grief of those whom thou hast wounded. Add iniquity unto their iniquity: and let them not come into thy righteousness. Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous.”
In this scripture, a new element was added. The book has now become the book of the living, or the book of life. David said that those whose names are blotted out will not “come into thy righteousness” which was his way of saying they would not enter the Messianic Kingdom, or the thousand year reign. [For more details on the Kingdom of God, see our book What Scripture Says About Salvation, Monograph No. 7].
The next mention of a book is in Psalms 139:13-16. “For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.”
This passage says that God actually wrote David’s name in his book before David was born. Evidently, faith has little to do with having your name written in God’s book. David certainly claimed no righteousness of his own to justify having his name being in the book; he gave all the credit to God. Having our names in the book of life appears to be another element of God’s grace.
Daniel 12:1-3 says, “And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.”
These verses mention deliverance into the Kingdom as a blessing for having your name in the book. When tribulation comes upon the earth, those whose names are in the book will be delivered from that trouble. They will also be resurrected to everlasting life, or the kingdom, or into the righteousness of God.
Another blessing is that those who turn many to righteousness shall shine as the brightness of the firmament. Notice it does not tell us to “save souls,” but to turn people to righteousness. Neither does it tell us to have people ask Jesus into their hearts, or to accept him as their savior. It simply says, “to turn people to righteousness,” which is the essence of repentance, the same message preached by John the Baptist.
The phrase “book of life” was used by Paul in Philippians 4:3. “And I entreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose names are in the book of life.” Paul evidently believed that the names of those laboring with him in the gospel were still written in the book of life.
All the other scriptures pertaining to the book of life are in Revelation. The first is Revelation 3:5, where Jesus said, “He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.” The word confess comes from exomologesomai, which means to acknowledge that someone is in agreement with you, or with someone who serves your cause.
What a promise! The names of the overcomers will not be blotted out of the book, and Jesus will confess their names before the Father. However, this verse clearly says that there is a definite possibility that sin in our lives can result in our names being blotted out of the book. Notice, too, that it is Jesus who is in charge of blotting out names.
Revelation 13:8 says, “whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” Revelation 17:8 says, “whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world.” These verses indicate that the names were written in the book of life from the foundation of the earth. It is clear that people’s names are not written in the book of life as a result of anything they do. Rather, their names were written in the book of life before they were ever born, from the very foundation of the world!
Revelation 20:12 is the next scripture in which the book of life is mentioned. “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.” According to the previous verse (20:11), this is called the great white throne judgment. Those who enter the Kingdom, the overcomers, will rule and reign with Jesus during the 1000 years. Those who did not enter the Kingdom will spend the 1000 years in outer darkness and, along with those born during the reign of Jesus, will have their works judged at the great white throne judgment (see Revelation 12:4-5).
Overcomers during the 1000 year reign will not participate in the great white throne judgment as it occurs after the 1000 year reign. The works of people living now will be judged at the second coming of Jesus. However, non-overcomers will face judgment at the great white throne.
Revelation 20:15 says, “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” Revelation 21:27 says, “And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” These two verses show the destination of those whose names are not written in the book of life.
The final mention of the book of life occurs in Revelation 22:19 which indicates the penalty for altering what John wrote. “And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.”
To summarize, scripture establishes that, (1) God has a book; (2) the book is the book of life; (3) it contains the names of those who will enter into God’s righteousness, or the Kingdom, at the coming of Jesus, the Christ; (4) the names were written in the book from the foundation of the earth, before anyone was born; (5) those whose names are in the book will be delivered into the Kingdom of God; (6) Jesus is in charge of blotting out names; (7) those whose names are blotted out will wind up in the lake of fire.
Given this, our task should not be trying to get God to accept us; he has already done that. Rather, our task is to retain that acceptance so our names will not be blotted out of the book of life. Ironically, we do this best when we stop striving to please God, and simply yield ourselves to God, allowing him to use us.