Thursday, August 17, 2006

God's Indelible Pen: A Brief Commentary on Revelation 3:5

He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father in heaven. Revelation 3:5 NKJV
In studying this verse recently in preparing for a Bible study, it presented a theological conundrum. Often I have heard many preachers after having received a new believer during an invitation make a curious statement: "Such-and-such's name has just been written in the Lamb's Book of Life." I had never really thought about it, and following suit after I began pastoring, I have used that curious phrase after having received a new believer, affirming the new Christian in their commitment to follow Christ.

However, the phrase actually does not accurately represent what the Scripture teaches about election, as it is presented in Revelation 3:5. Many Christians have the idea that God keeps a running tally of all those who profess faith in Christ and then with a divine permanent marker, He writes that believer's name in the Lamb's Book of Life. However, this is not what this verse teaches. It actually teaches that everyone's name is already in the Book.

A divine register is not a new idea in the Scriptures. After the Golden Calf incident in Exodus, Moses approaches God, hopefully to make atonement for the sins of the children of Israel. Moses says to God, "Oh these people have committed a great sin, and have made for themselves a god of gold!" Moses then beseeches God that if He cannot forgive the people, that God could just blot his name out of the book which He had written. God's anger against their sin was not sated, so He responded to Moses in Exodus 32:33, "Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book."

Keeping a register was also a common practice in the city of Sardis. She was one of the most prosperous cities of Ancient Greece, yet by the time the letter found in Revelation 3:1-6 was delivered, the city was declining. Foolish over keeping city records, officials kept a great city register in which the names of all her inhabitants were recorded. There were only two ways an individual's name could be removed from the register; either criminal activity or death. So, one can draw an interesting conclusion from these details.

All names are already in the Book of Life and only the ones who fail to receive Jesus Christ in repentance and faith are blotted out. This seems to follow from the idea behind "blotted out." Doesn't something need to be written down first in order for it to be blotted out? I actually remember the advent of erasable ink. If a student writing in ink were to make a mistake, grace was there so as to erase his error. Before that silly paper-saving convenience, if one made a mistake, it had to be scratched over; blotted out. This also raises a second theological conundrum; that if one's name is written in the Book of Life only after salvation, then the possibility exists that one's name could indeed be removed and salvation could be lost.

The idea of blotting out something that is already there precludes this notion. An individual's name is already written in the register and the Lord Jesus will make the final decision at the judgment seat, so if one has failed to make a genuine decision for Christ, then that is when God will use His great indelible pen, and blot that lost sinner's name out from the book of eternal election, as Matthew Henry calls the Lamb's Book of Life. Incidentally, when Jesus speaks these words for the Apostle John to record, He uses a double negative, a no-no in English grammar but perfectly acceptable in Greek syntax. He actually says, "[To] He who overcomes...I will no not blot out his name from the Book of Life." Why then would Jesus place a peculiar emphasis upon the permanence of those whose names are written in the Book if He meant not that they would be saved to the uttermost?

Sincerely,
tony

9 comments:

s stone said...

I agree. I never looked at it that way before. Good food for thought.

tim said...

Care to comment on the other book in Rev. 20:12?

Tony said...

s stone,

Thanks for the encouraging words. Stop by again soon.

tim,

I'll handle that in an upcoming post. Hope you'll be looking for it. Thanks for commenting, my brother.

Gordon Cloud said...

This is a nice job with this text. I'll look forward to future posts.

Tony said...

Gordon,

Thanks for the visit and the encouraging words. I will certainly look forward to seeing you!

tony

wes johnson said...

Tony,
This is Wes Johnson. I would like email with you. Please email me at wesjess1@mac.com.

Robert said...

Why then would Jesus place a peculiar emphasis upon the permanence of those whose names are written in the Book if He meant not that they would be saved to the uttermost?

Well, I do agree with most of what you say and you did put in a lotm of research and time to this topic. I have also been doing a lot of research on this topic as well. However, I differ with you on this one point: The book of Life and the book of Life of the Lamb are two different books.

1. The book of Life

Yes, you are correct, everyone's name is written in here, even those who are not saved. Why? Because he is willing that none should perish(2 Peter 3:9) but wants everyone to come to the full knowledge of Christ. Not only this, but the only thing keeping unbelievers out of heaven is their sin, not just this, but to be more specific, the unforgivable sin, blaspheming against the holy spirit which is denying Jesus as Lord and Savior.

I will also use the same verse that you did which was found in Exodus 32:

Then Moses returned to the Lord and said, "Oh, these people have committed a great sin, and have made for themselves a god of gold!

Yet now, if You will forgive their sin--but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written."

And the Lord said to Moses, "Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book.

This means that even non-Christians (the non-saved) were written in this book. This is my interpretation of the verse but it seems to me that it fits both reason and is consistent with what I believe.

2. The Book of Life of the Lamb

The only reference to this is in Revelation 13:8:

All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

All who dwell on earth is usually a phrase meaning those who are not saved. So using this verse, I can see that the lamb's book of life contains the list of those Christians who will accept Jesus as was predestined before the foundations of this world (Ephesians 1).

Knowing the difference between these two books will keep us away from the notion that we can lose our salvation. It is something I don't believe in not because my elders taught me so, but because of John 10, Hebrews 6 and other scriptural references point that there is no sin except the blaspheming against the Holy Spirit that can keep us out of Heaven. Which means that once we accept Jesus there is nothing we can do that will keep us out of heaven becomes even if we are faithless, He will still remain faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. (2 timothy 2:13)

So in conclusion, the preachers were right.

If you have any comments, questions, ideas that contradfict mine, I dont mind having a discussion over email.

ravd87@aol.com

Thanks,
Robert

Tony said...

Robert,

Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I always welcome comments on my blog.

I understand your point of contention, but you really do not present arguable evidence to convince me that there are two separate books.

Most scholars I have read affirm that the Lamb's book of life and the book of life are one in the same; only a couple to my knowledge say that there are two...Tim LaHaye, J. Vernon McGee.

Tim LaHaye's dispensational, Arminian views and his bent for defending a pre-tribulation rapture distort his theology so I do not see him as a reliable source.

It makes more sense and allows for greater consistency in the book of Revelation if they are the same book. The phrases are simply synonyms. It stands to reason that to add the qualifier "Lamb's" to the "book of life," that it is just implying who owns the book; which, from the context, makes sense that the owner of the book would be emphasized.

"Those who dwell on the earth" is a technical phrase in the book of Revelation for lost sinners during the time of the tribulation. The context is about beast-worshipping sinners, not those who will receive salvation. "Those who dwell on the earth" have spurned Christ's great sacrifice, and grammatically, the emphasis is placed not on the owner of the book, but rather the fact that the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world. The emphasis is placed on Christ's sacrifice and that "those who dwell on the earth" have rejected it for beast worship, regardless of the fact that their names are written in the book of life, which incidentally belongs to Jesus.

You said, Knowing the difference between these two books will keep us away from the notion that we can lose our salvation. I did not even intimate that one could lose their salvation; I stated that if a person's name was written in the book only after salvation, then the possibility exists that the name could be blotted out after the fact and salvation could be lost. If the name is already there, which fits the biblical evidence and is more theologically harmonious with Scripture, it precludes the notion that salvation can be lost.

Nevertheless, the incongruity of Revelation 3:5 and 20:15 still exists. How do you reconcile them? Rev. 20:15 says, "If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life..."

This text does not demand that a name be actually physically written in a particular book. Using the illustration of the city register again, if the name had been blotted out, as 3:5 suggests, to blot it out removes it from the register and the name is no longer written there; they have been removed, as it were, from view.

Also, to suggest that there might be a second book, of which we can actually do something to have our names written in that book, even if it is confess Christ as Lord, speaks to a works-based salvation. Our names are written in the book as you say, by the divine foreknowledge of God, but they remain in there only by His grace and the righteousness imputed to us by Christ.

The verse rather affirms what I am saying, that their names will be blotted out; that they are not written in the book.

So, I do not share your conclusion, that the "preachers were right."

Moreover, I do not see how blaspheming the Holy Spirit applies in this context, and neither is it the subject of this post.

Again, I appreciate you stopping by and taking the time to share your views. May God bless us both as we seek to understand His Word.

Anonymous said...

I think that you can lose your salvation!