Book of Life


“And the books were opened, and another book was opened, which is the Lamb’s book of Life.” (Rev. 20:12b)

In Revelation, the saved are only those written in the Lamb’s Book of Life (20:12; 22:19).  What is the point?

Edershiem says, citing the Talmud, “On New Year’s Day three books were opened – that of life, for those whose works had been good; another of death, for those who had been thoroughly evil; and a third, intermediate, for those whose case was to be decided on the Day of Atonement.”(Edershiem, The Temple and It’s Ministry in the Time of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1972)296).  It is clear, therefore, that John’s allusion to the Book of Life, and “the books,” comes from Israel’s temple imagery.

For any Jewish reader of the Apocalypse, John’s allusion would have definite meaning.  This reinforces the point we have made repeatedly in these eschatology Study Series 16 Lesson 1 thru 10 studies, Revelation is a book about the fulfillment of Israel’s Covenant promises.  It is a book contrasting the Old Covenant world with the New.

In Revelation, the real book of Life is that of the Lamb, it is not that of the old temple.  It is the Lamb and His Bride that are in conflict with the Harlot.  As we have seen, Revelation deals with “those who say they are Jews but are not, for they are liars” (2:9, 3:9).  The question was, “Who is the true Israel?”  Old Israel had her book of life; new Israel had the Lamb’s Book of Life.

With the fall of Jerusalem all the genealogical records, and “the Books,” were destroyed.  What Jew can appeal to the records to prove his link with Yahweh?  (What a powerful argument that Messiah has come.  If the genealogical records were destroyed by God, then no one afterward can properly claim to be of the Davidic lineage.  Messiah had to have come before AD 70, and what better candidate than Jesus of Nazareth?).  John the Baptist foresaw this (Matthew 3).  The time was coming when the children of God would not be identified by genealogical roles written on tables of stone or parchment.

In addition to the above, it is important to understand the association of the “Book of Life” with the resurrection hopes of Israel.

When John said he saw the dead judged out of the Book of Life, he was writing on a common Jewish theme that has unfortunately been lost to the modern student because of a, “benign neglect” of the study of the Old Covenant (Marvin Wilson, Our Father Abraham, Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith, Center for Judaic-Christian Studies, (Dayton, Ohio, Eerdmans, 1989)108.).  This is tragic, since as Wilson observes, “Thorough knowledge of the Old Testament is thus imperative if one is to grasp the Hebraic foundation which underpins the theology and life of the earliest Church” (Wilson, Abraham, 108).  To properly understand Revelation 20:12, and its reference to the Book of Life, we must comprehend the Old Covenant foundation of the promise.  One thing is apparent; the Book of Life was tied to Israel’s last days resurrection hope.

We cannot examine every text that mentions God’s Books.  (See Exodus 32:32-33; Ps. 56:8; 69:28; 139:16; Mal. 3:16; Luke 10:16-18; Phil. 4:3, for some of the passages that mention God’s book.  The references are sometimes poignant, always brief, ever highly suggestive.).  We will focus on two texts that specifically predicted the time of Israel’s salvation, the time of the end, resurrection and judgment. 

The next chart will help visually compare these prophetic texts with Revelation.

Isaiah 2-4 Daniel 12 Revelation
In the last days (2:2) Time of the end (v. 4) No more delay (10:6-7)
Kingdom established (2:2-4) * Time of inheritance (v. 13) Kingdom given to the saints, at resurrection (11:15-18)
At Day of the Lord (2:10-11, 19-21) ** Term not used but elements of that Day present Great Day of the Lord (6:12-17; 16:14-16)
Day when “Branch of the Lord glorified” (4:2)   Day of glorious coming of Christ (Chpt. 19)
Salvation of Israel’s remnant (4:2-4) Salvation of Israel (v. 1) Salvation of remnant of Israel 7:4-8, 14:1-5
Salvation of those in God’s book (4:3) Salvation for those in God’s book (v.1) Salvation for those in God’s book (20:12) ***
Israel’s salvation “by the spirit of fire and judgment” (4:4) Those written in book saved at time of Great Tribulation (v. 1) **** Salvation of those who come out of Great Tribulation (7:14)
Tabernacle of God is with man (4:6) Receiving of inheritance, eternal life (vs. 2, 13) Tabernacle of God with man (21:2-3)
Time when Israel judged in “the war” (3:13-14,24-26) All things fulfilled when power of holy people destroyed (v.7) Time when city that killed the Lord judged (11:8; Chpts. 17 – 18)

* The coming of the Kingdom and the resurrection are inextricably linked in scripture (Matt. 25:31-32; 2 Tim. 4:1; 1 Cor. 15:51-53).  Yet this concept is often ignored.  Thus, when Isaiah predicted the establishment of the Kingdom, he was predicting the time of the resurrection.  When Ezekiel and Daniel predicted the time of resurrection, they were predicting the time of the Kingdom.  When Jesus, therefore, predicted the coming of the Kingdom within the framework of the fall of Jerusalem (Luke 21:28-31) this was an implicit, but nonetheless powerful, declaration of the time for the resurrection (Daniel 12:2,7).  The Biblical exegete cannot divorce these eschatological tenets that are so wedded in scripture.

** In Luke 23:28-31, Jesus applied Isaiah’s last days prophecy of the Day of the Lord to the events of AD 70.  Either He was: 1.) mistaken, 2.) He lifted the prophecy out of context, 3.) He was capriciously applying the words of Isaiah to His contemporary event even though they did not actually apply, or, 4.) He properly applied the prophecy of Isaiah.

If Jesus properly applied Isaiah’s prediction to the fall of Jerusalem – and who would contend that He didn’t? – then, since Isaiah’s prediction included the salvation of those written in God’s book, we must apply Revelation 20 to that framework as well.

*** This point is damaging to the millennial view.  According to millennialists, the White Throne Judgment can only, “constitute those that are raised to condemnation” (Pentecost, Things To Come, 398).  However, in Revelation, the Book of Life (not condemnation) would be opened, and according to Isaiah and Daniel, that is when Israel would be saved.  Thus, millennialism says the Throne judgment is solely for condemnation, while scripture posits Israel’s salvation, at the time of the Throne judgment.

Israel would not receive her full salvation until the opening of the Book of Life (Isa. 2-4; Dan. 12).  The Book of Life would not be opened until the end of the Millennium (Rev. 20:1-12). Therefore, Israel would receive her salvation at the end, not the beginning, of the Millennium. Unquestionably, this has profound implications for the millennial construct, but not just for the millennialist.

Jesus taught that salvation is of the Jews.  In other words, salvation flows from the Jews to the nations.  If the Jews did not/have not received the fulfillment of their eschatological hopes – at the end of the millennium – then there is no salvation for the nations.

**** Plainly, Jesus predicted the Great Tribulation for His generation, and linked it with the fall of Jerusalem (Matt. 24:21, 34).  We can conclude that the Book of Life is associated with the close of Israel’s history, because Jesus associated Daniel 12 with the events surrounding Israel’s demise, and because Daniel posits the salvation of those written in the book at the time of Israel’s Final Judgment.

Israel’s hope was indeed the resurrection, and linked with the Book of Life.  Thus, when John wrote of the dead being judged out of the Book of Life, this was a powerful reminder that he was focused on the fulfillment of the Hope of Israel.  Revelation 20 cannot be divorced from this context.  John’s focus in the Apocalypse is the imminent fulfillment of what the prophets foretold (Rev. 10:7; 22:6).  The prophets were the prophets of Israel, predicting the coming of the Messiah at the consummation of, “The restoration of all things which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:21).  This means that the “eschatology” under consideration is the eschatology of (True believing) Israel’s history, it is not Historical Eschatology.

To apply the Book of Life to the future is to divorce the reference from its Old Covenant moorings.  This demands that one be able to prove that Israel’s Book had already been opened, and that, therefore, Revelation must refer to another Book of Life promise.

To apply Revelation 20 to a judgment of Rome, to a judgment against the Eastern European Common Market, exclusively to a judgment of condemnation, or to some future judgment divorced from Israel’s prophetic hope, is to completely ignore the proper context for understanding the Book of Life and the book of Revelation.


See also related “Topic Studies & Terms”:

Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11-15)


For a more in-depth study see the related full “Study Series” (available upon request if not hyperlinked):

“Study Series 16 Lesson 7 Rev. Chapters 19 and 20”