By Carl Johnson
Revelation 3:5 records this promise: “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.” One portion of the verse bothers some people; it is “I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life.” Some infer from this statement that names can be blotted out of the Book of Life. The verse does not say that names will be blotted out of the Book of Life. In fact, it says just the opposite: “I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life.”
Of course, this statement implies the possibility of having one’s name blotted out. J. A. Seiss in his book Letters to the Seven Churches stated,
There is a Celestial roll-book of all those who name the name of Jesus. But it depends on the persevering fidelity of the individual whether his name is to continue on that roll or to be blotted out.1
Dr. John F. Walvoord answered Seiss’s conclusion by writing,
To make the continuance of our salvation depend upon works, however, is gross failure to comprehend that salvation is by grace alone. IF it depended upon the believer’s perseverance, the name would not have been written there in the first place.2
Quite a few Christians believe that everyone’s name is written in the Book of Life at birth. Regarding this belief, Dr. Walvoord wrote:
As they come to maturity and are faced with the responsibility of accepting or rejecting Christ, their names are blotted out if they fail to receive Jesus Christ as Saviour; whereas those who do accept Christ as Saviour are confirmed in their position in the book of life, and their names are confessed before the Father and the heavenly angels.3
Dr. Warren Wiersbe believes the following:
As unbelievers die, their names are removed from the book; thus, at the final judgment, the book contains only the names of believers (Rev. 20:12–15). It then becomes “the Lamb’s Book of Life” (Rev. 21:27), because only those saved by the Lord Jesus Christ have their names in it. All the others have been blotted out, something God would never do for any true child of God.4
God’s Word makes it clear that all names are not written in the Book of Life. John speaks of those “whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 17:8).
Three verses in the Old Testament speak of blotting someone out of a book: Exodus 32:32–33 and Psalm 69:28. Moses calls the book “Your book which You have written” (v. 32). Psalm 69:28 calls it “the book of the living.” Exodus 32:33 records God’s words: “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book.” None of the verses mentions the Book of Life. Charles R. Smith commented, “A much better approach is to understand these OT passages as metaphorical references to a book of covenant blessings.”5 Then he quoted J. B. Lightfoot: “Hence to be blotted out of the book of the living means to forfeit the privileges of the theocracy; to be shut out from God’s favor.”6
The New Testament refers to the Book of Life eight times: Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27; 22:19. In this Book of Life God has recorded the name of His elect. “Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). In his book Expanded Translation, Dr. Kenneth Wuest wrote, “Your names have been written in heaven and are on permanent record up there.”7 Now if the names of God’s children were written in Heaven before the foundation of the world (Rev. 17:8), and if God knows everything that will happen, would He write someone’s name in His book only to turn around and one day blot it out? Jesus encourages His own with these wonderful words: “Rejoice because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).
I quote again from The Book of Life by Charles R. Smith:
This study has argued that the OT allusions to a register of names refer to those who are slated for covenant blessings with a primary focus on the temporal blessings associated with physical life. These references do not convey the full import of the later NT statements regarding the Book of Life. However, they foreshadow the later significance. While names could be removed from a list of recipients of temporal, conditional covenantal blessings, names could never be removed from a list of recipients of eternal, unconditional covenantal blessings.
On the basis of these considerations it may be concluded that there is only one Book of Life which lists the names of those who are chosen and predestined for eternal life. This book has never contained the names of all humans, or of all professing believers, or of “believers” who later “lose” their salvation, but only the names of all the elect. The names are not entered at birth or at the time of salvation, but were all entered “before the foundation of the world.” These names are never blotted from this register.8
Thank God that instead of our names being blotted out, He has promised, “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19).
Dr. S. Maxwell Coder clearly explained how we can know that our names are written in the Book of Life:
We can be sure our names are in the book of life as Paul was about the inclusion of Euodias and Syntyche, of whom he wrote, “[their] names are in the book of life” (Phil. 4:3). Our names will never be blotted out if we have trusted Christ, sealing our faith by acknowledging Him in the presence of others.9
Carl Johnson was an evangelist who traveled throughout the United States, speaking in churches, at conferences, and in schools. He is now with the Lord. This article is an excerpt from his book What’s Going to Happen? Answering Your Prophetic Questions, published by Regular Baptist Press.
1 J. A. Seiss, Letters to the Seven Churches (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1956), 201.
2 John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago: Moody Press, 1966), 82.
4 Warren Wiersbe, “Exposition of Revelation,” The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton: Scripture Press, 1989), 577–78.
5 Charles R. Smith, “The Book of Life,” Grace Theological Journal (June 1985): 223.
6 J. B. Lightfoot, Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, n.d.), 159.
7 Kenneth S. Wuest, The New Testament: An Expanded Commentary, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1961), 160.
8 Smith, 229–30.
9 S. Maxwell Coder, The Final Chapter (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1984), 131–32.