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Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez
My questions are about God’s heavenly books. Why are there books? Why is that important?
In order to answer comprehensively I would have to examine all the biblical passages in which reference is made to heavenly books. That would take more space than I am allowed. I’d prefer to limit our discussion to only one of those books, the book of life.
1. Record Keeping: The Israelites practiced the keeping of records of the names of the citizens of their cities. Genealogies were important to determine legal rights and social and religious functions (cf. Ezra 2:62). The deletion of a name from those registers was a severe legal punishment (Eze. 13:9). Isaiah gives the practice an eschatological significance when he announces that in the Messianic kingdom “he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy—everyone who is recorded for life in Jerusalem” (Isa. 4:3).* One could conclude that the register of a city may be called a “book of life” in the sense that those inscribed in the list had the right to live there and enjoy the privileges and responsibilities of a citizen.
2. Recording Names in the Heavenly Book of Life: The Bible mentions a heavenly register in which the names of those who belong to the Lord are recorded (Luke 10:20; Ex. 32:32; Ps. 69:28; Phil. 4:3; Rev. 17:8; Dan. 12:1). That book contains only the names of those who have chosen to be citizens of the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:27; 17:8). Jesus encouraged His disciples to rejoice because their “names are recorded in heaven” (Luke 10:20), and Paul refers to his fellow workers as those “whose names are in the book of life” (Phil. 4:3). Some have concluded, based on Revelation 17:8, that the names of believers have been written in that book from the foundation of the world. The text describes divine foreknowledge but not predestination in the sense of an arbitrary decision that fixed the eternal destiny of human beings. The inclusion of names in the book of life is grounded in the cross (Rev. 13:8).
3. Preserving and Deleting Names From the Book of Life: Moses asked the Lord to remove his name from the book of life if that would make it possible for the Israelites to be part of it (Ex. 32:32, 33; cf. Ps. 69:28). But names are preserved or removed through a divine act of judgment (Dan. 7:9, 10; 12:1, 2). It is through Christ’s mediation that the names of God’s people are retained in the book of life (Rev. 3:5). Only the names of those who have fallen from grace will be erased from that book (Rev. 3:5; 20:12, 15).
4. Significance of the Book of Life: The biblical information concerning the book of life leads to several conclusions.
a. The Bible clearly uses a social practice—keeping record of the names of those who were citizens of a particular city—to help us understand heavenly realities. The social practice illustrated and pointed to something more significant in the heavenly realm. The liberation of souls from darkness into the kingdom of God is not only celebrated in heaven but is also recorded in the book of life.
b. The book of life underscores the fact that those who belong to Christ are already citizens of the heavenly city. Their names are already written in the heavenly ledger, and they are considered citizens of that kingdom, with all its privileges, prerogatives, and responsibilities.
c. The decision to record the names of believers in the book of life is not arbitrary or accidental. It was not a divine afterthought but part of the divine intention before they actually and willingly decided to be members of the city of God. Divine foreknowledge and human freedom do not cancel out each other.
d. What makes possible the inclusion of the name of the believer in that book is at the same time what makes it possible to retain it there, namely, God’s forgiving grace. As long as repentant sinners persevere in faith and retain a spirit of dependence and submission to God through Christ’s atoning work, their names will not be blotted out. They are indeed citizens of the heavenly city.
* Bible quotations in this column are from the New American Standard Bible.