Rev. 13:8 – All those who live on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name was not written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slaughtered. (HCSB)
The sovereignty of God and the freedom of human beings are two seemingly irreconcilable biblical truths. Just as Satan acts freely to empower a beast who acts freely, those who worship these evil beings act freely as well. They make choices for which they are held accountable, and unbelievers will join Satan, the beast and the false prophet in the lake of fire. At the same time, their deeds are known to God and always have been known by Him, just as the willful acts of believers always have been in God’s view.
While some argue that God merely foresees the faith of the righteous and the rebellion of the unrighteous, and others contend that God has determined all things (without becoming the Author of sin or the Creator of a fixed game), it appears the ways of God are beyond human understanding. If God can allow Satan and his minions to slaughter countless Christians for no other reason than their staunch faith in His Son, and through these sinful acts enable believers to conquer the dragon by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony, can He not also allow unbelievers to worship a false Messiah and vindicate Himself in their judgment?
We do God a disservice when we accuse Him either of dispassionate sovereignty or spineless foreknowledge. He is sovereign. He knows all things. He has all power and authority. And in the midst of this mind-boggling transcendence, He created people in His image and entrusted them with the ability to make choices for which they are held responsible. Though the beast-worshiping unbelievers of Revelation 13 are excluded from the Lamb’s book of life, they would never have signed their names anyway – even if the Son of God opened the pages Himself and offered them a pen.
The Book of Life
A few observations should be recorded about the “book of life.” In Revelation, the “book of life” refers to a divine record of all believers – those who will live eternally with God in the new heaven and new earth. This book is mentioned several times:
- In Rev. 3:5, Jesus promises the faithful in Sardis that He will never erase their names from the book of life – a comfort to those familiar with the common practice of erasing the name of a condemned criminal from the citizenship registry.
- In Rev. 13:8, we are reminded that unbelievers’ names have never been written in the book of life.
- In Rev. 17:8, we are told that those who live on the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel when they see the beast whose fatal wound is healed.
- In Rev. 20:12, 15, we see resurrected unbelievers stand before the great white throne as books are opened in judgment, including the book of life; they are cast into the lake of fire because their names are absent from the book of life.
- In Rev. 21:27, we see that only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life enter the New Jerusalem.
Additionally, in Luke 10:20, Jesus’ followers are assured that their names are written in heaven. In Phil. 4:3, Paul writes about his coworkers whose names are in the book of life. And in Heb. 12:23, the author tells of the “assembly of the firstborn whose names have been written in heaven.”
“The Christian understanding of the phrase as a roster of the righteous is rooted in Old Testament passages such as Exodus 32:32-33; Psalm 69:28; 87:6; Malachi 3:16; and especially Daniel 7:10; 12:1 where the context is one of final judgment” (Dictionary of Biblical Prophecy and End Times, p. 71).
Old Testament and early non-canonical Jewish and Christian literature mention three types of books: 1) the book of life, which records the names of the righteous; 2) the book of deeds, which keeps track of a person’s good and bad deeds; and 3) the book of destiny, which records the history of the world and/or the destinies of people before their birth. There is no mention of this third book in the scriptures, but the first two books seem well grounded in the Word of God. That’s why believers, who will stand before the judgment seat of Christ, must give an account of their lives, while unbelievers, who stand before the great white throne, must do the same. However, only the redeemed find their names in the book of life.
Next: If anyone has an ear — Revelation 13:9-10