Judgment by the book
On the Day of Judgment, when God will judge all who have ever lived, the Righteous Judge will render His verdict based on perfect records. The scene of this end-times event is seen late in the book of Revelation...
A number of books are entered into evidence in the celestial court. One is singled out as being different than all the others and is specifically called "the book of life." While the remainder of the books are left nameless their purposes can ascertained from the passage. Notice that every person is judged by the standard of these books. This fact alone shows that further study is warranted.
In a rare Old Testament occurrence, the prophet Daniel was given a vision of this end-times judgment as well. In his vision the books (plural) were opened for judgment, even as they were in Revelation.
While no direct reference was given at this time to book of life, a later passage certainly points to its existence. We will examine that passage as part of this section on the book of life.
The book of life:
It must be noted that every unbeliever who stands before that great bar of God will have no entry in the book of life. Into this deafening silence the protests of good actions and claims of self-righteousness justly require an answer. It is now that we move to examine the contents of the other books that will reply.
The (other) books:
Popular culture likes to portray heaven as a time when your whole life will be played on a video screen for all to see. I have even met believers that have feared such, often shamed by things they did before they believed, or that were committed in weakness following. Consider the truth in this matter.
Jesus, the Righteous Judge of all (John 5:22), will certainly be judging "the dead (Revelation 20:12b)" by what was written in the books, but what about the believer? In Second Corinthians it does clearly say that "we must all appear before the judgment seat" to receive what is due us for thing done while alive, good or bad. For the believer, with their name recorded in the book of life, just what is left in the books regarding the actions of their life? What is there to be read out to condemn them?
There is nothing left in the records to condemn a believer, and, believe me, in view of the Holy perfection of God a single sin would be all it takes. How can all this sin, error, and omission be gone from the record of a believer? By the blood of Christ!
When we repent of our sins and turn to Jesus in faith, our sin is blotted out (wiped out) of the books, never to be remembered again or held against us. This same idea is pictured in regards to our robes in heaven...
It is the blood of Jesus that covers our sins, leaving absolutely nothing to condemn us. For this reason we have nothing to fear in the time of judging. Since this takes care of the negative side of judgment for a believer, what about the positive side, the good we have done in the body? If the books have any entry for a believer it would have to be this...
"Done perfectly for them by Christ!"
The perfect righteousness of Christ, who never sinned, who did everything we should have, who perfectly served the Father in love and obedience, is imputed (or credited) to us. Jesus lived for us the life we (as believers) can never live. The apostle Paul spoke of this very thing in a number of passages...
With the imputed righteousness of Christ being recorded in our favor, this is how God can and will say to every believer...
Even the repentant thief on the cross (Luke 29:39-43), and the person who makes a death-bed conversion, will be able to hear those same words in the Day of Judgment. The bottom line on all our good deeds rests in the completed work of Christ.
Only the unbeliever still clothed in his filthy rags of self-righteousness needs fear receiving just reward for his deeds. But oh how great the gratitude for the believer who owes everything to His Savior!
A couple Old Testament passages, in Psalms and Exodus, are sometimes claimed by those trying to prove that a person can be removed from the Lamb's book of life. This section will address both of those passages beginning with the one in Exodus.
While the Old Testament law had shadows of things that were to come, namely the spiritual fulfillment, much of the focus in their day rested in earthly ordinances and observations. It is not valid to arbitrarily assume that the book Moses is referring to is the spiritual Lamb's book of life which is not fully revealed until New Testament times. In fact, the idea of being blotted out in regards to sin was earlier established...
The words translated "book" (Exodus 32:32) and "scroll" (Exodus 17:14) are the same Hebrew word (literally meaning "writing" or something written). In the earlier passage, God was going to blot out the remembrance of the people that were under his judgment, meaning they were to cease to exist as a people (obviously they are remembered, as such, because God had knowledge of them recorded in His word). When Moses later talks about himself being blotted out of the scroll (or book), he's using the same idea; that God would strike him rather than the rest of the Israelites. God's answer was that those who had sinned, or need to be punished, would be the ones that would be (in God's own timing). As we see throughout the law, that's exactly what God did. Notice this passage in Deuteronomy and how it quite clearly parallels the idea behind the judgment of the Amaleks.
Still another passage...
The focus of being blotting out, in the law, directly pertained to a persons' existence within the covenant nation of Israel. Those who sinned were to be blotted out, suffering the judgment and punishment of God, cut of from the people. Multitudes of offenses were punishable by death or exclusion from the people (part of the curses of the law).
In the inverse, since God promised to always have a remnant, God promised that Israel would never be fully destroyed, or blotted out of physical existence.
Again, this passage has nothing to do with the book of life in heaven as it had a completely earthly ("under heaven") focus. Many centuries later, still under the law, David had the same perspective.
Throughout the law was the concept that long life was for the righteous and a shortened life was for the wicked. It is for this reason that David calls on God to judge the wicked through their deaths.
The term translated "book of life" is quite literally, in Hebrew, the "book of the living." Once again the idea remains the same, being the physical cutting off of the wicked. While the book of life in heaven, fully revealed in New Testament times, is certainly a book of the living as well (in the fullest sense of that word), it is physical life that is in view in Old Testament times (the later book of Daniel, with its sealed up vision of the far distant future being the only exception). The book, or scroll, David later refers to in regard to his own life reveals more of this idea.
David was saying that God had recorded all the days he would live before any of them came about. When applied to the wicked and their being blotted out, it is to say that their days (or life) need to be shortened.
While the focus in the law was on physically being cut off, there was (and David certainly had) an awareness that God kept a record of sins.
David clearly knew that God needed to blot out any remembrance of sins or there would be no way that He could stand before God. If sin was to remain there would be no difference between him and the wicked.
While this certainly applied to the nation of Israel, we now fully understand how God applies this to believers individually. Only with the completed work of Christ can we understand the fullness of the picture revealed in the New Testament concerning the book and the books.
Written by Brent MacDonald of Lion Tracks Ministries. (c) 2006
Duplication permitted as long as the source is cited.