“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… And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:12, 15).
Growing up, I used to sing a Sunday School song called: “The best book to read is the Bible”. I’m still absolutely convinced that’s right. But Revelation 20 tells us about two other books that are written by God. They are not books we’re able to read yet. We’ll only get to read them on Judgment Day, but God wants us to be aware of them. And, in some ways, these two books are more important than the Bible. What are they?
i) The book of records. It’s not actually called that in v.12, and it’s actually a multi-volume book, but this book contains records of all that we’ve ever done in our lives. That’s hard to get our minds around and it’s sobering. I’ve done enough stuff in the 37 years I’ve been alive to fill 32 volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Everything we do of moral significance is recorded and will be considered on Judgment Day. And, if we take a moment to think, it includes a lot of uncomfortable, sinful material that we would dread to see the light of day. Right now, this book is being written and updated. In the last 24 hours, more text has been added under an entry with your name on it.
ii) The book of life. This book is much slimmer than the book of records and is much simpler. It simply contains a list of names. It’s either a Yes or No. Your name is either there or it’s not. Finding your name entered in this book means you’re saved and you’re safe for eternity. If your name’s not in there, Revelation says you’ll be “thrown into the lake of fire”. But while that book is not read out until Judgment Day, Jesus has been sent so that we can know our names are written there. Jesus told his disciples to “rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). If the book of records is all about what I do, the book of life is its opposite. I have no control over its contents; in Christ, I simply find my name is there.
Sometimes as Christians, we can think that salvation by grace means how I live doesn’t matter. That’s like thinking that the book of life simply cancels out the book of records; the gospel invalidates or permanently deletes the book of records. But that’s not what’s happening in Revelation 20, is it? On Judgment Day, Revelation 20 says both books will be opened. We’re quite clearly going to be “judged by what was written in the books”. So, on what basis will I be judged? By my works or by God’s grace? This scene in Revelation shows that my complicated, detailed life will be “read” in the light of the book of life. God’s gracious book of life will be used to interpret the book of records. In other words, in the gospel, these two sources of judgment are not in conflict, but harmonise. The entry of my name in the book of life secures my salvation – it is all down to Jesus, first and last – but not in a way that invalidates the moral significance of my life.
So, remembering these two other books is critical for good Bible reading. As you read your Bible, remember the book of life. Only in Jesus Christ will you know your name is entered there. And as you read your Bible, remember the book of records, and know that, in Christ, your good works really matter. At the end of the day, Bible reading that forgets these two others books will be worthless.