The Book of Life Reexamined
This one verse seems to make universal salvation impossible.
And those who dwell on the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world (Revelation 17:8)
On the surface, it looks like this verse says that there is a predestined fixed permanent number of people who will ever be saved. If this is so, then universal salvation is impossible. But there are other ways of understanding this verse. The thorny phrase is “…names written from the foundation of the earth.” Many assume that the names that are entered into this book were done so at one point in time before the creation of the earth.
Although the phrase “from the foundation” (apo kataboleis) can mean “from before” (suggesting an arbitrary past point in time act of God before creation), it can also mean “from the time of” creation or “since” the earth was made, and so describes a process within time.
Let me explain: “From the foundation of the earth,” would only mean that those who did not choose to enter into eternal life, who chose to reject God, from the beginning of the world—that is, throughout history are those whose names have not been written in the book of life! These names would be added as they chose God! So, the assumptions we bring to the text will determine how we interpret it.
Now, how can we tell which translation is correct? Is it “before” or “from” the creation of the world? Simple! Let’s bring together all the verses in Revelation that mention the book of life and see which translation fits best. Do other verses say that the content of names in this book is permanent and fixed forever? Twice, in Revelation, we are told that God will remove the names of people from the book of life.
19 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 22:19 NKJV)
He who overcomes I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life (Revelation 3:5 NKJV)
Here’s the thing. If a person does not overcome, then their name will be removed from the book of life. This means two things:
- If names were permanently recorded in this book, then it would be impossible to have names removed. And yet names can be removed. Clearly, the content of names is not permanently fixed. In other words, if names can be added and/or deleted from the book of life, this means that the eternal destiny of these people was not permanently fixed in God’s mind (=in “the book”) from the start!
- Secondly, humans have a part to play in getting their names into the book. They must “overcome”—which means surrendering to the blood of the Lamb in Revelation 12:11. This indicates that the content of names is not in God’s control.
More to the point, we are told that those who do eventually end up with their names not in the book of life also end up …
And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:15 NKJV)
Now, this is important. You see, in Revelation, all those who enter the lake of fire eventually exit it, cleansed, restored and healed. Those whose names are not in the book of life are identified as “those who dwell on the earth”—or “the nations.” In Revelation 17:8, it’s those “who dwell on the earth whose names are not written in the book of life” and in Revelation 13:7-8 and 14:6-9, those “who dwell on the earth” are identified as “the nations.”
Why is this important? In Revelation, it’s “the nations”—those whose names are not in the book of life—that attack Jesus and his people (Revelation 19:11-21 cf. 20:7-9). It’s the “nations” who end up in the lake of fire but eventually leave it!
In Revelation 21:24–27, we read that the bride is already inside the gates of the New Jerusalem and that the nations (those not in the book of life) eventually enter into the city from outside the gates! To do so, they had to meet the condition of entry which was “to wash their robes (Revelation 22:14).” And by washing their robes, they also had access to the tree of life (Revelation 22:14).
This is exactly what we find the nations doing! We read that having washed their robes and so entering into the city from outside the gates, that “the nations”—those not in the book of life—eventually approach the throne and find their ultimate healing as they all eat from the leaves of the tree of life (Revelation 22:1-5).
So, according to the unfolding narrative in Revelation, those not in the book of life end up in the lake of fire and all exit the lake and enter into the city from outside the gates and are all healed. So, not only is the content of the names of the book of life not irreversibly and permanently fixed by God—but that all those whose names are not in the book also end up in the lake of fire, exit it and are universally healed.
Not being in the book of life, then, is a temporary experience and results in universal healing.