“Is your name in the book of life” is popular phrase we in some songs to remind us if we are truly in a relationship with performed in some evangelical meetings.
The book of life is a popular concept in the Christian faith and is almost central to the theme of being in heaven. It seems a no brainer to say what it means to an average believer?
But in the light of recent events as a lot of things in the faith have been questioned in the discovery of the gospel of grace and the message of the kingdom, this too has come under the radar for review.
What is the book of life about?
The first thing I want to share with you is that the book of life is very Jewish in concept and practice.
September as it is the most important month for holidays in modern Judaism. These holidays are both spoken of in Leviticus chapter 23, and the reason they are so important is that they deal with the topic of atonement.
Most Jewish people attend synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as they likened to the observation of Easter and Christmas for Christians. The first holy day is Rosh Hashanah, the traditional Jewish New Year – mentioned in the Bible as the Feast of Trumpets.
In ancient times, this day was celebrated by blowing shofars (rams’ horns) and with sacrifices. Traditionally, it commemorates the creation of the world – or, more specifically, the creation of Man on the sixth day of creation. In synagogues till date, it is also customary to speak about the Akedah (the story of the binding of Isaac).
The second holy day, Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) is the most important day in the Jewish calendar. In the Old testament, this was the only day when the high priest was allowed to enter into the Holy of Holies in the Temple. On this day, the high priest would take two goats. On one goat he would confess the sins of Israel and then send it into the wilderness to die as the scapegoat. The other goat was sacrificed on the altar and its blood was sprinkled on the ark of the covenant. In this way, atonement was made for the whole nation of Israel in one day.
Since the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD this changed the way things were done. Now with the absence of the Temple, rabbis throughout history have created ways for the Jewish people to observe the atonement ceremony even when it has been fulfilled by Jesus death on the cross as the lamb of God that took away the sin of the word.
The rabbis say that God opens two books on Rosh Hashanah: the book of life and the book of death. They say that God will immediately write the names of those who are righteous in the book of life and the names of those who are wicked in the book of death. They also say that most people will not fall into either category.
Therefore, according to the rabbis, Rosh Hashanah begins the Yomim Noraim (the Days of Awe); this is the 10-day period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. During this time period, Jewish people will begin to volunteer and give to charities in hopes that these good deeds will outweigh the bad deeds of the past year.
According to rabbinic tradition, on Rosh Hashanah the destiny of the righteous and the wicked are sealed. The righteous are written into the Book of Life, and the wicked are written into the Book of Death, but most people won’t be written into either book. These are given the ten days until Yom Kippur to exercise repentance and self-examination and then seal their fate. Then, on the Day of Atonement, everyone has his or her name inscribed into one of the two books.
This was the basic understanding of the book in biblical days especially coming from the Old testament paradigm. It was important to get yourself prepared for the atonement and so you qualify by your good works. But there was a prophetic dimension towards as used by God himself in the notable vision of Daniel as it regarded the last days of the Mosaic age.
“Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued. Daniel 12:1 NASB
“Now at that time”—We need to understand “what time” but we can’t unless we look back at the previous chapters. Let’s start with:
“Now I have come to give you an understanding of what will happen to your people in the latter days, for the vision pertains to the days yet future.” Daniel 10:14 NASB
Daniel the Prophet was given a vision of what will happen to “your people” (the Israelites) in the latter days. This vision is of the future to Daniel, it is of the last days of Israel:
“At the end time the king of the South will collide with him, and the king of the North will storm against him with chariots, with horsemen and with many ships; and he will enter countries, overflow them and pass through. Daniel 11:40 NASB
The “at that time” of chapter 12 is the “latter days” of 10:14, and the “end time” of chapter 11. So Daniel 12 is talking about the “end times,” which we know is referring to the end of the Old Covenant dispensation. Unfortunately because mainstream has read itself into endtime passages in the New testament we have seen a plethora of failed endtime predictions.
The endtime spoken of Israel to Daniel corresponds with the last song written by Moses in Deuteronomy in the same message and spirit.
“For they are a nation void of counsel,
Nor is there any understanding in them.
29 Oh, that they were wise, that they understood this,
That they would consider their latter end! (Deuteronomy 32:28-29)
You can read more on it in Deuteronomy 32.
“And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time” Daniel seeing a time of great trouble in Israel at the end of the Jewish age. Daniel tells us that during this time of distress some of his people will be rescued.
Jeremiah confirms the same thing in:
Now these are the words which the LORD spoke concerning Israel and concerning Judah: “For thus says the LORD, ‘I have heard a sound of terror, Of dread, and there is no peace. ‘Ask now, and see If a male can give birth. Why do I see every man With his hands on his loins, as a woman in childbirth? And why have all faces turned pale? ‘Alas! for that day is great, There is none like it; And it is the time of Jacob’s distress, But he will be saved from it. Jeremiah 30:4-7 NASB
Jeremiah also spoke about a time of trouble and says, “There is none like it.” Then he says that this same time period of great distress is a time in which some will be saved. Jesus also talked the prophecies of old about this time. That is Hebrews tells the audience to hear the son.
“God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these (theirs not ours) last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; (Hebrews 1:1-2) Paraphrase mine.
In Matthew 24 Jesus was answering the disciples questions about the destruction of Jerusalem. They wanted to know when it would be destroyed, and what signs would precede the end of the age and His Parousia, then he quotes Daniel:
“For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. Matthew 24:21 NASB
He told them, “‘then’ there will be great tribulation.” The “then” is referring to the context of verses 15-20; when you see the abomination of desolation, which Luke tells us is Jerusalem surrounded by armies. This happened in A.D. 67 when Cestius Gallus, the Roman general, laid siege to Jerusalem.
This is made abundantly clear in the parallel text in Luke’s Gospel:
“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near. “Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city; because these are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled. Luke 21:20-22 NASB
Luke tells us here that ALL things which are written will be fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem. What does he mean by that? “All things which are written” refers to prophecy. All prophecy was to be fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem.
Daniel confirms the very same thing in:
“Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place. Daniel 9:24 NASB
Daniel was told that 70 weeks had been determined on his people Israel and city Jerusalem. The Hebrew word used here for “have been decreed” is chatha, which literally means: “to cut off.” The 70 weeks is symbolic. By the end of this prophetic time period, God promised that six things would be accomplished. One of the things that Daniel was told would happen by the end of that period was that God would “seal up vision and prophecy.” The Hebrew commentaries are in agreement on the meaning of to “seal up vision and prophecy”–they say it means: “the end and complete fulfillment of all prophecy” in this case as it relates to national Israel.
Daniel’s vision begins with the decree to rebuild Jerusalem and is fulfilled with the destruction of Jerusalem, which occurred in A.D. 70:
“So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. “Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. Daniel 9:25-26 NASB
The fall of Jerusalem was far more than the fall of a city, it was the end of an age. That is why Jesus said it would be a, “great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be.”
So how does the book of life come in all this?
Remember that before their names are inscribed, they needed to repent and prepared against the atonement. The arrival of the Messiah, his death and resurrection was the moment of preparation that Israel largely ignored. They counted themselves not worthy of eternal life (Acts 13:46) and so despised the Spirit of grace by embracing the law. It was a bad move.
Let’s go back to Matthew and notice what he said in the next verse:
“Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. Matthew 24:22 NASB
This is the same thing we saw in Daniel 12:1, “And at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued”–So Daniel, Jeremiah, and Jesus all talk about this same time of great tribulation when God will save His people. Jesus tells us exactly when this time was to be:
“Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until ALL these things take place. Matthew 24:34 NASB
Yeshua here, very plainly and very clearly, tells HIS DISCIPLES that ALL of the things He had mentioned would come to pass in THEIR GENERATION. For some strange reasons most views hold it that it will over that generation and into ours. This is so clear that it takes a confused assistance to hold to a futuristic eschatology.
Jesus could have said, “That generation.” But He didn’t! Jesus is saying that everything that He has spoken about will happen before the generation that He was speaking to would pass away.
So Daniel is talking about a time that the generation that Jesus lived in would see all these things fulfilled.
“And at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued”–the “your people” here are Daniel’s people, the Israelites. At the time of The Great Tribulation all the Israelites that are found in the book will be rescued.
The rescue here we need to understand is just beyond the escape from the fall of the city and the temple. It was a transition into the kingdom that had long expected that the Messiah would bring.
Throughout Matthew’s gospel Jesus continually warned the Jews of their coming judgement because of their rejection of the Messiah. Most of Jesus’ parables deal with the kingdom of God or the destruction of Jerusalem because of their rejection of that Kingdom. In the build up from chapter 21 through chapter 24, you will notice the unfolding of the judgement theme.
43 “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. – Matthew 21:43 NKJV
John the Baptist at one time also told the Jewish leaders the same thing when they showed up his baptism of the people.
“…You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. – Matthew 3:7b-8 KJVV
Noticed that Jesus also spoke about the kingdom and those who wouldn’t enter. Only those recognized by the lamb would be see able to either see the kingdom or enter in hence the term “born again”. It was about being reborn into another family, the family of the Father through the working of faith.
Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. Philippians 4:3 NASB
The “book of life” is only mentioned here and in Revelation in the New Testament. This verse in Philippians 4:3 clearly states that it was those of faith whose name were written. This is distinction of those who embraced the life of Jesus against those who rejected the salvation provided through the finished work of Jesus. These people were qualified by Jesus finished work and are such were those marked for the full manifestation of the kingdom.
But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning THE KINGDOM OF GOD and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. Acts 8:12 NKJV
And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.” Acts 14:21,22 NKJV
So we find more mention of the book of life in Revelation, why? Because the book of Revelation deals with the theme of judgment that Daniel and Jerusalem spoke about that would see a deliverance for a chose few. The reason why its few is bcause majority of the Jews rejected the kingdom and it was given to the Non-Jews through the hands of Paul.
All who dwell on the earth (ge-land) will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain. Revelation 13:8 NASB
The “all” here refers to the Jews who pledged allegiance to the Roman government in their rejection of the Lordship of Jesus.
“The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction. And those who dwell on the earth, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will wonder when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come. Revelation 17:8 NASB
We also learn that those who aren’t in the book of life are consigned to the lake of fire:
And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:15 NASB
In Revelation 21:27, we see that only those who are written in the book can enter the New Jerusalem, which typifies the New Covenant and the kingdom. Old covenant Israel was held in the Old Jerusalem that was under slavery and could not inherit the promise.
and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. Revelation 21:27 NASB
I want you to look at a verse that seems to have caused much confusion:
‘He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. Revelation 3:5 NASB
This statement has been the source of controversy for generations. Can a believer lose his salvation? Could one of God’s children be blotted out of the book of life?
That statement employs a figure of speech called “litotes,” which is extremely common in literature. Litotes makes a positive affirmation by negating its opposite.
There is no explicit statement in Scripture that anybody will have his name blotted out of the book of life. The Lord is rather declaring the impossibility of being thrown of the kingdom, strengthening the sense of the security of our salvation.
The book of life confirms our citizenship in the kingdom, a work of grace fulfilled by Jesus through his finished work. It is not a physical book but a documentation in the heart of the Father we are His and we share his life.
That is why the John uses is “biblos zoe”. Zoe speaks of the life, nature and substance of God in our being. Jesus fulfilled all the feasts including the Atonement his sacrifice and return so that we are all documented in His unfailing and eternal love and life. Halleluyah!