THE HEAVENLY BOOKS AND SCROLLS
“And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done” (Revelation 20:12; Daniel 7:10). The Bible mentions several heavenly books in which the experiences and acts of human beings are recorded. What are these books? They appear to contain documentation of everything ever done by anyone on earth. To say the least, they must be extensive. While some people take these books figuratively, to represent God’s omniscience, we should not assume these aren’t real books. It would have been easy to tell us “the all-knowing God judged everyone.” Here we will explore the significance of some of those records and their particular function.
2.0 THE BOOK OF REMEMBRANCE
Malachi 3:16-18 is a remarkable passage that tells us God documents the faithful deeds of his children on Earth: “Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord, honoured and meditate on His name. ‘They will be mine,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘in the day when I make up my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.’ This “book of remembrance” may be another record included in “the books” of God’s heavenly archives (Daniel 7:10). While it may refer to a separate and distinct scroll, it may also be translated as “a written reminder” added to another, larger scroll. Then again, it may also be a metaphorical, customary description of God’s indelible memory. Whatever the case, this record contained either the names or the behaviour of those who resisted apostasy in Israel prior to the intertestamental period and who exhibited the qualities of genuine faith in God. In a time of future judgment, God would spare these people from the outpouring of his wrath (Malachi 3:17-18).
God is proud of his people for fearing him and honouring his name, and he promises that all will see the differences between those who serve him and those who don’t. Those distinctions are preserved in this scroll in Heaven. The king often had scribes record the deeds of his subjects so that he could remember and properly reward his subjects’ good deeds (Esther 6:1-11). While God needs no reminder, he makes a permanent record so that the entire universe will one day know his justification for rewarding the righteous and punishing the wicked.
3.0 THE BOOK OF LIFE
The other book is the Book of Life, in which the names of God’s people are written. John mentions it throughout the book of Revelation (Revelation 3:5; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 22:19). It’s mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures as well (Exodus 32:32-33; Daniel 12:1). It’s also referred to in later literature, such as The Book of Jubilees and The Dead Sea Scrolls. The apostle Paul refers to it in Philippians 4:3, “I urge you also, true companion, help these women who laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life”. This instance refers to a “Book of Life” and affirms that the names of Paul’s faithful ministry partners appeared in this record. These partners included a man named Clement, who was likely a Gentile believer, not a Jewish one. This instance is especially fascinating because it resembles what Jesus said previously to his fellow Jewish ministry partners (Luke 10:20). In this way, Paul affirmed that not only were the co-laborers of Jesus recognized as full-fledged citizens of God’s heavenly community, but the ministry partners of Paul enjoyed the same privilege.
In Revelation 3:5 we read, “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 and before his angels”. This verse continues emphasis on the names of true believers being recorded in a heavenly register and, like Paul, calls this register the “Book of Life” (Philippians 4:3). This promise from Christ applies to believers today who exhibit genuine faith by overcoming obstacles and persevering throughout their earthly lives. Christ assures these true believers, whether Jew or Gentile, that he will never remove their names from the registry of his heavenly, eternal kingdom.
The beast that you saw was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition. And those who dwell on the earth will marvel, whose names are not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast that was, and is not, and yet is. (Revelation 17:8) This instance carries forward the “Book of Life” concept. Here it describes people whose names are not written in the book. These people will be alive on earth at the end of tribulation period who had refused to believe on Christ as Messiah. Apart from knowing this, it is also important to recognize the reoccurrence of the phrase “from the foundation of the world.”
Anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:15) This instance describes a frightening, awful moment before a “great white throne” of judgment in heaven (Revelation 20:11). This courtroom/throne room event will exclude believers but will encompass every nonbeliever from history, from the beginning to the end of time. Nonbelievers, whether Jew or Gentile, will be gathered from their graves throughout the world for individual hearings before God. The place of these persons’ eternal destiny (the Lake of Fire) will be determined by the absence of their name from the Book of Life (which will be invoked, Revelation 12:15). Beyond this, the degree and details of their individual punishments will be determined by their individual works (Revelation 12:12). From this it seems apparent that though all nonbelievers will suffer unbearable, conscious torment in separation from God forever, some will suffer more intensively than others.
For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. (Revelation 22:18-19) This statement serves as a divine warning for anyone who would dare to deliberately alter the words and message of Revelation. It is important to know that these verses contain a crucial textual variant of which we should be aware.
4.0 THE BOOK OF LIFE OF THE LAMB
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. (Revelation 13:8) Moreover, in Revelation 21:27 we read, “There shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life”. This instance reiterates that only those people whose names are recorded in the permanent, redemptive registry of heaven will enter God’s eternal kingdom. People who enter eternity as unrepentant, unredeemed sinners will be denied entry his kingdom (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
Another solution holds that the Lamb’s Book of Life differs from the Book of Life. The Book of Life contains the names of every person who ever lived. Those who believe have their names retained in the book (Revelation 3:5). Those who are unsaved are blotted out of the book (Psalm 69:28). Another book, the Lamb’s Book of Life contains the name of every individual who is born again, and only those who are born again (Revelation 13:8; 21:27). Names are never blotted out of this book. The difficulties with this view are:
- Taking these as two different books when their titles are so similar.
- Allowing names to be recorded and blotted out in one book but never recorded in the second book when God’s eternal election applies equally to both.
- The beast worshipers are said to have never had their names written in the Book of Life (not the Lamb’s Book of Life) in Revelation 17:8.
- Those who are not blotted out of the Book of Life are one and the same as those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. What then is the purpose of having two books if election applies to all the saved listed in both books and their ultimate destiny is exactly the same – the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:27; 22:19)? Similarly, the result of being omitted from either book, either by never having been written in or by being blotted out, is essentially the same – eternal damnation (Revelation 20:15).
On most occasions where the Lamb’s book of life is mentioned it refers to the register of those who have been chosen for salvation from eternity past. It is not temporal or earthly blessings that are in view, but participation in the eternal kingdom of God as recipients of eternal life. For example: “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect” (Hebrews 12:22-23). “But nothing unclean will ever enter it [the New Jerusalem on the New Earth], nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:27).
5.0 DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE BOOK OF LIFE AND THE BOOK OF LIFE OF THE LAMB
There does seem to be a difference between these two very important books. Let’s look first at what the scriptures say about the book of life, or the book of the living. This book would include all those who have ever lived. In the Old Testament the “Book of Life” (or its equivalents) was a register of the citizens of the theocratic community of Israel. To have one’s name written in the book of life implied the privilege of participation in the temporal blessings of the theocracy, while to be erased or blotted out of this book meant exclusion from those blessings. In other words, this book had reference to the rights of citizenship for the Jewish people (Exodus 32:32; Psalm 69:28; Isaiah 4:3).
We have the first mention of this book in Exodus 32:31-33. That says, “And Moses returned unto the LORD, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin–; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written. And the LORD said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book.” Moses, in his intercessory work for the children of Israel, is seeking the Lord’s forgiveness for the sins of the people. If the Lord would not forgive, then Moses asks the Lord to blot his name out of the Lord’s book. This seems to be in reference to Moses’ natural, physical life. This is confirmed by reading Numbers 11:15, where Moses is under great stress from the burden of leading all the Israelites. There he says, “And if thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, if I have found favour in thy sight; and let me not see my wretchedness.” Here we see that to blot one’s name out of the book is to take one’s life. King David, in great despair of his enemies prayed in Psalms 69:28, “Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous.” It seems logical to say here that these ungodly men had their names in the book of life, along with righteous men. David asked the Lord to blot their names out of His book, or to take away their lives.
Let’s look at one more reference concerning the book of life. Revelation 3:5 tells us, “He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.” Who are those that overcome? 1 John 5:5 says, “Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” To the overcomers, or the believers, there is the promise that their names will never be blotted out of the book of life. For the believer, while our earthly lives may come to an end, our life is not over and our names are not blotted out of the book of life. There are those who do not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. At death, their names will be blotted out of the book of life because their physical lives are over and they have no spiritual life.
There are those who will live forever; those who have eternal life because of their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. These have their names written in the Lamb’s book of life, of which there is no mention of anyone having his name blotted out. Revelation 21:27 shows that true believers will occupy the new Heaven. That says, “And there shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” There will come a day when even those who have rejected the Lord Jesus will have to bow before Him and give homage to Him. Revelation 13:8 says, “And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” In general, all those who are living have their names in the book of life, or the book of the living. Upon death, the unbelievers’ names are blotted out of this book. Those who have trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Lord and saviour have their names written in the Lamb’s book of life. Their names will never be blotted out of that book. We have the wonderful assurance of the Lord’s words in John 10:27-29, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.”
Thus, there is the Book of Life and then there is the Lamb’s Book of Life. These are different books. The Book of Life is the book of physical life. The Lamb’s Book of Life is the book of eternal life. When we are born the first time, God places our names in the Book of Life. When we are born the second time, God places us in the book of eternal life, a register and roll of all who shall inherit eternal life. When we die, God blots us out of the Book of Life. God never blots our names out of the Lamb’s Book of life. In Exodus 32:31-33 we read, “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.” Moses asks God to kill him. He asks God to take him out of the book of physical life. Jesus will physically blot out the life of those who do not gain victory in their spiritual lives.
6.0 SEVEN-SEALED SCROLL [A GREAT SCROLL]
In Revelation 5:1 we read, “I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals”. This “scroll” is the same word translated as “book” elsewhere. Here it refers to a seven-sealed scroll (whether actual or metaphorical) that will announce a series of cataclysmic judgments by God on earth during the Tribulation (Revelation 5:2-6:17; 8:1-6).
7.0 A LITTLE SCROLL
Other passages describe a scroll in Heaven. Jesus opens a great scroll (Revelation 5:1, 5), and an angel holds a little scroll (Revelation 10:2). The psalm writer David said, “Record my lament; list my tears on your scroll—are they not in your record?” (Psalm 56:8). He asked that his tears be kept in Heaven’s permanent record.
8.0 THE BIBLE
We know that sixty-six books, those that comprise the Bible, will be in Heaven – “Your Word, O Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens” (Psalm 119:89). Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Matthew 24:35).
This study of the “books” in heaven reveals a gradual progression from the Old Testament to the New Testament.
In the Old Testament, allusions to the books in heaven refer to a variety of information of which God keeps a permanent record. These records give special attention to whom he recognizes as part of his chosen, covenant community on earth through the nation of Israel. Those who followed his Law remained on record as legitimate members of the community, while those who rejected his Law were removed. Though this scenario implies certain implications in the afterlife, it focused on physical life and death rather than eternal life and damnation.
In the New Testament, allusions books in heaven shift attention to heavenly and eternal realities. They move beyond the paradigm of national Israel and temporal life on earth to encompass all redeemed persons, whether Jew or Gentile, and their future place in the eternal kingdom of God. These future realities are the result of an irreversible choice made by God to send Christ as the atoning sacrifice for our sins, a choice he made before he created anything. As such, the Book of Life as portrayed in the New Testament refers to a permanent record of all believers, both Jew and Gentile, from the beginning to the end of time.
On the basis of this study, it is clear that the redemptive status of every believer, not just in the New Testament, has always been an irreversible reality. At no time in history – past, present, or future – is a true follower of God able to “lose” his or her salvation. Whether or not a person is redeemed by God is a matter of permanent, public record in heaven which cannot be altered. Both Nahum, an Old Testament prophet, and Paul, a New Testament apostle, affirms this timeless truth:
The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and he knows those who trust in him. (Nahum 1:7) Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” (2 Timothy 2:19)
These books contain detailed historical records of all of our lives on this earth. Each of us is part of these records. Our acts of faithfulness and kindness that no one else knows are well-known by God. He is watching, keeping track and documenting them in his books. In Heaven he’ll reward us for our acts of faithfulness to him, write down to every cup of cold water we’ve given to the needy in his name (Mark 9:41).