Rev. 20:12b – Another book was opened, which is the book of life, and the dead were judged according to their works by what was written in the books. (HCSB)
The book of life
In Revelation, the “book of life” refers to a divine record of all believers – those who live eternally with God in the new heavens and the 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 not written in the book of life.
- And 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.”
Rev. 14:13 – Then I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write: The dead who die in the Lord from now on are blessed.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “let them rest from their labors, for their works follow them!” (HCSB)
The dead who die in the Lord
This section ends with a voice from heaven saying, “Write: The dead who die in the Lord from now on are blessed.” This is followed by the Holy Spirit, who speaks, “Yes, let them rest from their labor, for their works follow them!”
Certainly, those who “die in the Lord” are blessed. Their names have been written in the Lamb’s book of life. The angels have rejoiced at their entrance into the kingdom. Jesus has gone to prepare a place for them in His Father’s house and will return to resurrect and glorify them. They will live forever with Jesus in the new heavens and new earth. Meanwhile, at the moment of death, they are absent from the body and present with the Lord. And they will be wherever Jesus is forever and ever. These are blessings for which every believer may rejoice for they are gifts of God’s grace, secured through the finished work of His Son.
But what does the phrase “from now on” mean? It cannot mean that those who previously have died in the Lord are lesser citizens of the kingdom or are denied the full benefits of eternal life. Nor can it mean that God withholds His promises from particular saints just because they lived in a different chapter of human history. Rather, the voice from heaven seems to be assuring those who remain faithful to the Lord during a time of extreme persecution that in death they are spared further suffering. Even more important, they are reminded that “their works follow them,” meaning they will be richly compensated in eternity for what they willingly sacrificed in time.
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.